Laundries’ lawyer can be named in civil suit, judge rules

Steven Bertolino
Steven Bertolino(ABC)
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 1:05 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The lawyer who represented Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, and their son, Brian, during the search for Gabby Petito can be named as a co-defendant in a civil suit by her parents, a judge ruled Tuesday.

In the motion, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt say Steven Bertolino’s statements on behalf of the Laundries caused them “mental suffering and anguish” at the time they were desperately searching for their daughter. In September 2021, Bertolino issued a statement hoping Gabby Petito would be found alive.

“It is believed that at the time the ... 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,” Patrick Reilly, the attorney for Petito and Schmidt, said when the suit was filed.

The Laundries filed a objection to naming Bertolino in the suit. In a hearing on the matter Tuesday in Sarasota County Court, the lawyer for the Laundries, Matthew Luka, argued the motion to add Bertolino was improper, for several reasons:

  • The lawsuit amendment was filed after a deadline to do so;
  • Amending the suit would cause unreasonable delays in the case;
  • Naming Bertolino in the suit along with his clients would violate attorney-client privilege and put him in an untenable situation.

Reilly countered, arguing that even if a deadline was missed, the privilege to amend a lawsuit was not abused.

Reilly noted very little discovery in the case has been completed; no depositions have yet been taken; and the plaintiffs are still waiting on information requested from the federal government, so therefore the case would not be significantly delayed.

He also said that while Bertolino may argue he is immune from the suit because of attorney-client privilege, it is not relevant to the issue of being named in the lawsuit.

After arguments were presented Tuesday, Sarasota County Judge Danielle Brewer quickly ruled for the plaintiffs, saying the amended motion has not caused an undue delay in the case and the privilege to amend the civil suit has not been abused.

Bertolino attended the hearing via Zoom, but did not speak.