Ventura wins $1.8 million in defamation suit
Article by: RANDY FURST and JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune staff writers
Updated: July 29, 2014 - 2:25 PM
In a split decision, jury votes 8-2 to award damages for defamation, “unjust enrichment.”
Jesse Ventura won his defamation case against an author who said he punched out the former Minnesota governor for criticizing the U.S. Navy SEALs’ role in the Iraq war.
The jury awarded a total of $1.845 million: $500,000 in defamation damages and $1.345 million for “unjust enrichment” — or to be specific, $1,345,477.25.
Jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict, as instructed. Instead, with the consent of both sides, they voted 8 to 2 in Ventura’s favor.
Ventura was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle said federal rules require a unanimous verdict but allow for a split verdict if both sides agree. Attorneys agreed to 8 of 10 jurors taking one side.
One man and one woman voted no on verdict when all jurors were polled in the courtroom. It appeared the forewoman was one of the two no votes.
Ventura sued Chris Kyle, a former U.S. Navy SEAL sniper, who wrote in “American Sniper” that he punched out a “celebrity” SEAL at a bar in 2006 for criticizing the SEALs’ role in the Iraq war. He later identified Ventura in media interviews. Ventura said Kyle fabricated the incident, and his reputation was ruined by Kyle’s account.
After Kyle died in 2013, Ventura continued the lawsuit against Kyle’s estate, which is run by his widow, Taya Kyle.
University of Minnesota journalism professor Jane Kirtley said Tuesday she was not surprised by the verdict, because the longer deliberations went on, the more she thought Ventura had a chance.
She also noted that the jury’s award was “a lot less than [Ventura] asked for.” Ventura had sought from $5 million to $15 million.
Kirtley said the most interesting aspect was the unusual dollar amount for unjust enrichment — down to the quarter. “They were apparently troubled by what they thought was the exploitation of Ventura,” she said.
Pizza for the press
As media awaited the lawyers outside the federal courthouse in St. Paul, Sam Goldsmith, a friend of the Venturas, delivered four medium Domino’s pizzas. He said that the Ventura family asked him to order pizzas for reporters, because, “You sat diligently here for two weeks. I hope the guys enjoy it.”
Four times Tuesday morning, attorneys for both sides in the case met with U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle in his chambers. They emerged from the latest meeting before noon, with no word of what they had been discussing.
The jurors Tuesday entered their second week of deliberations and their fourth week of work on the case, which began when six men and four women were selected July 8. They have been deliberating since last Tuesday afternoon.
Jurors resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday, a day after saying they were deadlocked.
On Monday, Kyle told them to “give it one more shot” at midday Monday after they sent him a note saying, “We feel we will not come to a unanimous decision.”