ST. PAUL, Minnesota — An attorney representing the widow of "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle is arguing that a judge was mistaken in awarding a $1.8 million defamation verdict to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
In a brief filed Wednesday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Taya Kyle's lawyer wrote that the verdict should be reversed and the court should rule in Kyle's favor. At minimum, attorney John Borger wrote, Kyle should be granted a new trial.
Ventura, a former pro wrestler and former Minnesota governor, sued Chris Kyle for defamation in 2012 after the best-selling author wrote in his book that he decked Ventura at a California bar because the former governor made offensive comments about SEALs. Ventura testified that he never made the statements and that the confrontation never happened.
A federal jury sided with Ventura last summer, awarding him $500,000 for damages and recommending $1.3 million for "unjust enrichment," or how much money Kyle improperly made from the claim. U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle granted the unjust enrichment, finding it was "reasonable and supported by a preponderance of the evidence."
But Borger argued on appeal that the unjust enrichment award based on alleged defamatory speech is unprecedented and violates the First Amendment. Borger also argued that Ventura didn't prove the account was either "material falsity" or "actual malice," and as a result, he didn't meet the legal threshold for a defamation claim.
Borger said the judge also erred in giving instructions to the jury.
"A properly instructed jury would not have rendered a verdict in Ventura's favor," Borger wrote.
Kyle, a former SEAL regarded as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range. A former Marine was convicted in his death last month.
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