25 January 2023
VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida judge granted a motion Tuesday to add a new defendant to the lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito’s parents against the parents of Brian Laundrie – the Laundries’ family attorney.
Judge Danielle Brewer ruled that the Petito family and their attorneys did not abuse their privilege to amend their lawsuit and that the amendment itself was not futile.
Petito’s parents, Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt, sought to add Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino to the suit against Brian’s parents, Chris and Roberta Laundrie.
“Gabby was there with us,” Schmidt told Nexstar’s WFLA. “I could feel her.”
“[Gabby’s parents] are happy,” said Pat Reilly, the attorney for Petito and Schmidt. “They’ve been through a lot. They’ve had to listen to a lot of statements made by Mr. Bertolino on behalf of the family, statements that were sometimes hurtful to them.
“And so, they believe by bringing Mr. Bertolino in, they ultimately will get justice for what has occurred.”
Bertolini tells WFLA he will assess his legal options, including whether to file a motion to dismiss, until he is served with the lawsuit.
“The decision was not unexpected,” Bertolino said. “This incident, like all others, will work out in the end. One way or the other.”
“Once I am [served] I will engage counsel and proceed accordingly.”
Bertolino isn’t representing the Laundries in this case, but continues to work with them as their general counsel.
Petito’s parents are suing the Laundries for allegedly knowing their son had murdered Petito and did nothing but have Bertolino issue a statement expressing hope that Petito would be found.
“It is believed that at the time the September 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,” Reilly said.
“Thus, after much consideration, the parents of Gabby Petito filed a Motion for Leave of Court this afternoon asking the court for permission to file a Second Amended Complaint to add Steven Bertolino as a defendant in the action. Motions of this type are liberally granted by the court. Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt are seeking justice and accountability for the loss of their daughter and the attendant harm caused them.”
Attorney Matt Luka, who argued against adding Bertolino to the lawsuit, claimed the deadline for the amendment had passed.
According to Luka, the decision to add Bertolino is not a usual occurrence. He said Bertolino will likely file his own motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“We’re hopeful that the judge grants Mr. Bertolino’s motion to dismiss if he does file one, and that this won’t be an issue once we get to trial,” he said.
Last year, Judge Hunter W. Carroll ruled against the Laundries’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Carroll also denied a motion to limit the scope of the Laundrie’s depositions, which are expected to occur in the coming months.
The depositions will mark the first time the parents of Petito and Laundrie will be in the same room since Petito’s murder and Laundrie’s suicide in 2021.