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VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — A jury trial has been ordered and scheduled for the lawsuit filed by the parents of Gabby Petito against the parents of Brian Laundrie.
The suit filed by Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt last month claims Laundrie’s parents knew all along their son murdered 22-year-old Petito. The attorney for Chris and Roberta Laundrie has already filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it “baseless.”
The jury trial, if it does happen, won’t begin anytime soon.
According to court documents obtained by WFLA.com, a trial in front of a jury has been set for the week of Aug. 14, 2023, at the South County Courthouse in Venice, Florida. The trial’s term window doesn’t begin until next year due to scheduling in the Sarasota County court system.
The jury trial, barring dismissal, is expected to be open to the public, which could draw international media attention. It would mark the first time the Petito case reaches a courtroom and, while it would be a civil case instead of a criminal one, it could reveal the highly-anticipated evidence Petito and Schmidt claim to have to support their accusations that the Laundries were told their son murdered Gabby Petito and sought to help him flee the United States.
While a date has been set, the case still faces the possibility of being dismissed after the Laundries’ attorney filed the motion for dismissal on the grounds their clients exercised their constitutional right to refrain from speaking and have “continuously relied on counsel to speak for them.”
Judge Hunter W. Carroll responded to the motion for the lawsuit’s dismissal by allowing the attorneys for Petito and Schmidt 20 days to file an amended complaint he says was necessary due to a “perceived procedural deficiency” in the lawsuit.
“To be clear, the Court in today’s order is not passing on Defendants’ arguments that this lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice,” Carroll wrote in his response. “The Court’s intent is to address the perceived procedural deficiency before addressing the merits of Defendants’ motion.”
Pat Reilly, the attorney for Petito and Schmidt, says he is preparing to file the amended complaint to state “separate causes of action on behalf of the Petito family against the Laundries.”
A ruling on whether the lawsuit will be dismissed is expected after Judge Carroll reviews the revisions. Steven Bertolino, the Laundries’ attorney in New York, tells WFLA.com his clients will still seek dismissal regardless of the changes made to the amended complaint.
“We are prepared for everything,” Bertolino said.
Reilly says he has a “high confidence level” the lawsuit will reach a jury trial, if it doesn’t get settled out of court.
“The court will have to decide whether the motion to dismiss has any merit, which I don’t believe it does,” said Reilly.
Petito and Schmidt are suing on the grounds of intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging that the Laundries were told by their son of Petito’s murder “on or about” Aug. 28 and, rather than tell them of Gabby’s death, chose to remain silent. The lawsuit accuses the Laundrie family of acting “with malice or great indifference to the rights of” Petito’s family. Petito and Schmidt are seeking damages of at least $100,000, stating that they suffered pain and mental anguish as a result of the “willfulness and maliciousness” of the Laundries.
The Laundries, through their legal team, have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The big question that looms ahead of a potential jury trial is the evidence Petito and Schmidt claim to have to back up claims made in the lawsuit.
“They’ll have to wait and see,” said Reilly when asked about the evidence. “If we didn’t believe it was true, we wouldn’t have put them in the complaint.”