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Friday, March 1, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Widow of ‘American Sniper’ Drops Malpractice Action

DALLAS (CN) - The widow of Navy SEAL sniper whose memoir was adapted for an upcoming Bradley Cooper film dropped her legal malpractice action against her attorney.

Taya Kyle, of Midlothian, and the estate of her husband, Chris Kyle, sued Christopher Kirkpatrick, of Dallas, in August for legal malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

Her husband and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot to death in February 2013 at a firing range in Erath County, allegedly by troubled Marine veteran Eddie Ray Routh. Clint Eastwood directed the film adaptation of Kyle's best-selling autobiography, "American Sniper," set to hit theaters January with "Hangover" star Bradley Cooper in the title role.

Kyle's widow accused Kirkpatrick, the family's estate-planning attorney, of concealing "irreconcilable" conflicts of interest in place and negligently rendered legal services.

Kirkpatrick's attorney, Jeremy A. Fielding, with Lynn Tillotson in Dallas, said there was no financial settlement in the case, that both parties entered into mutual releases.

"As part of these releases, Taya Kyle agreed to nonsuit the case and Kirkpatrick agreed not to proceed with his anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss," Fielding said in an email message on Friday. "No financial or other consideration of any other kind was provided by either party."

Known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, SLAPP plaintiffs file suit to burden critics with legal costs until they are silenced.

The parties will each bear their own costs and expenses, according to Taya Kyle's notice of nonsuit with prejudice, filed Wednesday.

Judge Gena Slaughter was set to hold a hearing today on Kirkpatrick's Sept. 19 anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss. The hearing was canceled when the parties agreed to drop their claims on Nov. 11 - three days earlier, according to Fielding.

In a Sept. 30 sanctions motion, Taya Kyle had claimed that Kirkpatrick "filed groundless pleadings" with the court that made "blatant misrepresentations and false statements" in what she believed "to be a concerted attempt to bully and intimidate" her and her young children.

She alleged Kirkpatrick filed "a frivolous answer and anti-SLAPP motion" to dismiss her lawsuit "in bad faith."

Kirkpatrick's Sept. 19 motion called Taya Kyle's lawsuit "utterly without merit."

"This is not a lawsuit over a legitimate dispute," the 20-page motion states. "This is a retaliation lawsuit, filed by Taya Kyle and her lawyer, Larry Friedman, in a cynical attempt to intimidate and punish Chris Kirkpatrick for exercising his right to petition on behalf of his client, Hayman Partners, LP, by asserting valid creditor claims in currently pending bankruptcy proceedings."

Those proceedings involve Craft International LLC, Chris Kyle's tactical-training company.

Kirkpatrick said that, a few months after Chris Kyle's death, Taya Kyle expressed how "extremely grateful" she was "for all you have done and continue to do for Chris and our family.

The attorney made a "great investment of personal time and effort" into negotiating "an extremely favorable modification" of the movie rights for American Sniper, "which Ms. Kyle currently enjoys the benefits of," his motion says.

Kirkpatrick allegedly declined the customary share of profits as Chris Kyle's business manager, saying "he was only helping Mr. Kyle as a friend and had no desire or expectation to be compensated for his efforts."

"For reasons Mr. Kirkpatrick to this day does not fully comprehend, soon after Mr. Kyle's death, Ms. Kyle began distancing herself from many of the individuals who had most tirelessly worked to help Mr. Kyle and the company they had helped create for him, Craft International," his motion states. "In mid-February 2013, Ms. Kyle requested that Mr. Kirkpatrick step down from his position as trustee for the memorial trust and family trust, so that her father, Kent Studebaker, could replace him. Mr. Kirkpatrick did so immediately, though at Ms. Kyle's request, he remained on the trust committee for the memorial trust. Before long, and led by attorney Larry Friedman, who had never known or represented Mr. Kyle personally, Ms. Kyle sued Craft International. Her allegations were harsh, even hurtful; she contended that Craft International executives - the same group who had dedicated so much of their energy and money to Mr. Kyle's success - had 'mismanage[ed] and usurp[ed] Craft International's contracts.'"

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura had sued Chris Kyle's estate for defamation over a passage in "American Sniper" in which the sniper says he punched out a celebrity while mourning the death of a fellow veteran.

Chris Kyle did not identify Ventura explicitly in the book, but he allegedly did so in subsequent interviews promoting the book.

A Minneapolis federal jury awarded Ventura damages of $1.85 million in July.

Follow @davejourno
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