Judge to decide if Laundrie family will face jury for allegedly giving Petito family false hope during search

Nichole Schmidt sat in a Sarasota County courtroom Wednesday, clutching a necklace containing the ashes of her daughter, Gabby Petito.

It was the first hearing in the civil lawsuit she and Gabby's father, Joseph Petito, filed against the parents of their daughter's presumed killer, Brian Laundrie

Joseph Petito and Nicole Schmidt in Sarasota County court

Their lawsuit claims that while a cross-country search was underway for Gabby last fall, Chris and Roberta Laundrie already knew what happened to the 22-year-old who embarked on a long-term road trip with her boyfriend, but would never return home.

Instead of telling authorities what they knew about Gabby's whereabouts, and her death, the lawsuit claims the Laundries hid behind their own legal council, Steven Bertolino, while they tried to shield their son from suspicion and even allow him to flee.

The Laundries did not show up for the first hearing.

MORE: Brian Laundrie’s parents to skip hearing on fate of Gabby Petito family's civil lawsuit

Gabby Petito map

Via FOX News

In court Wednesday, Patrick Reilly, the lawyer representing Gabby's family, said the Laundrie's actions were "outrageous."

Reilly said that Bertolino, who is no longer representing the Laundries, released a false and misleading statement during the time when Gabby's parents still hoped she would be found alive. 

"When they spoke up, they made that very callous, very terrible statement, giving hope to Joe and Nichole that perhaps Gabby was still alive, with full knowledge that she was not alive," Reilly said.

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Reilly added that Bertolino is not a defendant in the civil lawsuit because he is not a resident of Florida and operated out of his office in New York during the time of the search for Gabby.

Nov. 16, 2021: Members of Gabby Petito's family give an update on the disappearance of the 22-year-old.  (Maciel/Backgrid / FOX News)

The Laundries' new lawyer, Matthew Luka, filed a motion to have the civil case dismissed, saying his clients did not have a duty or obligation to speak, citing the first and fifth amendments.

MORE: FBI: Brian Laundrie claimed responsibility for Gabby Petito's death in notebook found near his body

Regarding the statement released by Bertolino, Luka said, "It can be construed as trying to divert attention or something like that, but again, it’s a fairly benign statement. He’s really expressing that he hopes she returns. He hasn’t alleged any information he had when he made that statement."

It will now be up to judge Hunter Carroll to decide whether the case against the Laundries moves forward. He said Wednesday that he plans to have a ruling within the next two weeks.