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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Navy SEAL’s Lawyers Duck Suit Over Memoir

MANHATTAN (CN) - Former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette cannot sue his legal advisers over the threat of prosecution stemming from his publication of a memoir detailing the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, a federal judge ruled.

Bissonnette published the book "No Easy Day" under his pen name, Mark Owen, in 2012. But even before the memoir hit bookstore shelves and the pages of Amazon.com, a controversy ensued over whether the former Navy Seal's account leaked classified details from the top-secret operation.

Bissonnette claimed in a lawsuit last year that he hired Fort Wayne, Ind.-based attorney Kevin Podlaski and his former law firm Carson Boxberger because he was sensitive to the possibility of such spillage.

He said his lawyers assured him that there would be no "civil or criminal exposure" from its publication.

When the Pentagon's ex-top lawyer Jeh Johnson sent a letter warning the publisher that the book contained "classified or otherwise sensitive information," Bissonnette's lawyers told him not to worry because the threats were "bull#@*#," according to the complaint.

He says that the advice proved catastrophically wrong, leaving him vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

As of last year, Bissonnette said that he forfeited more than $4.5 million in the book's profits, and movie rights that he estimated were worth $900,000.

He also claims to have spent a "significant amount of money in legal fees to try to clean up the mess" and that he had "his reputation and his exemplary military record tarnished by the false accusation that he sought to profit from disclosure of classified or otherwise sensitive information."

However, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said that Bissonnette failed to allege a reason why the lawsuit belonged in Manhattan Federal Court.

The ex-SEAL's lawyers "never traveled to New York, even for a day," the 20-page opinion says.

Bissonette, his agent and his publisher only communicated with the lawyers in Indiana, according to Wednesday's ruling.

Furman added that the lawyers "did what they were hired to do: provide advice to [Bissonette] on a contract with a New York-based publisher for a book set for national publication, and communicate with [his] team in New York regarding [his] nondisclosure obligations. What they did not do is solicit the relationship, use communications into New York to insert themselves into localized business transactions, or 'engage in extensive purposeful activity here without ever actually setting foot in the state."

Podlaski's attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bissonnette's lawyer Randy Johnston said in an email that he was "disappointed" in the ruling, but respected the "amount of effort and scholarship that went into analyzing this jurisdictional issue."

"We continue to believe that the citizens of New York City have a greater interest in and connection to this case than people anywhere in the world," he added. "We will, however, refile the case in Indiana. Ultimately, the full story of how this American hero was harmed and damaged by his own lawyers will be told."

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