JonBenet Family Attorney: CBS Lawsuit Coming Soon, Expert Liable

Thus far, Burke Ramsey, brother of JonBenét Ramsey, who was murdered in her Boulder home on December 25, 1996, nearly twenty years ago, hasn't filed a promised lawsuit against CBS for a docuseries that essentially accused him of murder. But his attorney is shrugging off a dismissal motion from an expert on the program who's already been sued and says the CBS complaint is likely to be filed before year's end.

In October, as we've reported, Atlanta-based attorney Lin Wood, representing Burke, sued Dr. Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist from Michigan who served as an expert on CBS's The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, on which Spitz and others theorized that Burke had committed the slaying at age nine.

Wood explained in a subsequent interview that Spitz was being targeted for comments he made about Burke's supposed guilt during a September 19 interview about the docuseries with CBS Detroit. His comments included the following: "If you really, really use your free time to think about this case, you cannot come to a different conclusion.... It's the boy who did it [i.e., killed JonBenét], whether he was jealous, or mentally unfit or something.... I don't know the why, I'm not a psychiatrist, but what I am sure about is what I know about him, that is what happened here."

The damage total cited in the suit was $150 million, an amount Wood chose because "that was the verdict in the Hulk Hogan-versus-Gawker case. And that message was intentional."

He added, "Let me assure you, the CBS case is going to be for a hell of a lot more than $150 million."

In recent days, a motion to dismiss the case was filed on Spitz's behalf by the Michigan law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP. Neither Spitz nor his legal representatives have responded to inquiries from Westword. But the document reportedly characterizes Spitz's comments as opinions rather than statements of fact.

“This lawsuit arises from the public discussion about theories involving one of the major unsolved crimes of the 20th Century,” the motion notes.

Another passage maintains that “Dr. Spitz expressed his own view — as the First Amendment affords him the right to do — but his speculations, even if firmly held and confidently expressed, are not statements of fact." The document concludes: “Because the First Amendment protects this speech on a matter of immense public concern, Plaintiff Burke Ramsey’s lawsuit should be dismissed.”

In an e-mail exchange with Westword, Wood disagrees.

"The motion to dismiss by Defendant Spitz is a standard media defense tactic," he writes. "A correct interpretation of First Amendment law requires a denial of the motion. The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear that the First Amendment does not provide blanket protection to all statements characterized as opinion."

According to Wood, "Spitz’s statements conveyed that Burke Ramsey killed his sister. That accusation is capable of being objectively proven to be false. Further, Spitz’s accusation was based on undisclosed facts and, more importantly, false and distorted facts. Simply stated, Spitz’s accusation is legally viewed as a statement of fact, not a protected opinion."

In Wood's view, the motion "may accomplish its intended purpose of creating delay." However, he goes on, "it will not prevent Spitz from ultimately being held legally accountable for his outrageous and false accusation against Burke — a false, heinous accusation Spitz made for his own profit and publicity.”

As for the lawsuit against CBS and Critical Content, the production company behind The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, Wood told us in October that its filing had been held up by specific aspects of the law in California, where it needed to be filed. But he maintains that the wait is almost over.

"We are continuing to draft the complaint," he allows, "and expect it to be filed within the next couple of weeks."

Here's the original Burke Ramsey lawsuit against Dr. Werner Spitz.

Burke Ramsey v. Werner Spitz

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts