TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Steven Bertolino, the attorney representing Brian Laundrie’s parents, has filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the civil lawsuit that was brought against him by Gabby Petito’s family.
Bertolino had been added to a lawsuit against his clients Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, which accuses them of inflicting emotional distress on Petito’s family after the 22-year-old went missing.
Gabby’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt filed the lawsuit against the Laundries last November, accusing them of knowing Gabby “had been murdered by their son,” who later died by suicide, and doing nothing but have Bertolino issue a statement that gave them hope their daughter would be reunited with their family.
“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family,” the statement said in part. “It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family.”
“It is believed that at the time the Sept. 14, 2021 statement was issued, the Laundries and Steven Bertolino knew that Gabby Petito was deceased and that under those circumstances, the statement was insensitive, cold-hearted, and outrageous,” said Pat Reilly, the lawyer for Gabby’s parents.
Bertolino was added to the suit in December. The next month, a lawyer for the Laundries filed a defense against the motion to add him a co-defendant.
“Pitting the Laundries and Mr. Bertolino as co-defendents undoubtedly creates a conflict because both have interest in defending themselves to the potential detriment of the other,” attorney Matthew Luka wrote in a response to the motion. “The Laundries should be able to defend this case without worrying whether their attorney will take an antagonistic position against them.”
Luka even contended that Bertolino knew more about the case than his clients.
“Mr. Bertolino’s knowledge is certainly far more than the Laundrie parents,” the attorney continued. “Yet, he cannot disclose what he knows or the reasons why he took certain actions because, even after Brian Laundrie’s death, Mr. Bertolino still owes a duty of confidentiality to Brian Laundrie.”
In his motion to dismiss the complaint, Bertolino’s lawyers said there were “no facts that could support this cause of action against” their client.
“The statements at issue were not misstatements of fact and expressed no opinion. The statements did not seek to cause embarrassment, scorn, physical harm, or intimidation. To the contrary, the two specific statements attributed to Mr. Bertolino reflect hope and prayer,” the motion said. “There is no established legal precedent within Florida which sets forth the proposition that a lawyer can be sued by a non-client for expressions of hopes and prayers under any situation, any circumstance or in any context. “
The motion said the accusations against Bertolino include a “mix of facts” and beliefs. One being that Brian Laundrie told his parents about Petito’s death, and when that allegedly happened.
“There is no allegation identifying when this purported information was made known to Mr. Bertolino, or whether such was known by Mr. Bertolino before or after September 14, 2021. Of course, what Mr. Bertolino knew or did not know could not be known to Plaintiffs, and can never be known to Plaintiffs, based upon the attorney client-privilege which exists between Mr. Bertolino and his clients, the Laundrie family,” the motion said.
“A lawyer in Mr. Bertolino’s position cannot be sued for issuing the types of statements described in the Second Amended Complaint. To allow such a lawsuit would always make ‘silence’ the safer option for any lawyer faced with an emotionally charged situation, even when silence may be harmful to his or her client.”