Lawsuit against Nancy Grace, CNN moves ahead

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

OCALA, Fla. — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that claims CNN's Nancy Grace pushed the mother of a missing toddler to suicide through aggressive questioning.

CNN and Grace argued the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Melinda Duckett's family would “severely chill” journalists' coverage of missing-persons cases. But U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges on July 31 denied their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Duckett, 21, was on Grace's show after her son Trenton went missing from her apartment in August 2006. Grace grilled the woman, accusing her of hiding something because Duckett did not take a lie-detector test and answered vaguely regarding her whereabouts.

Duckett fatally shot herself before the network aired the pre-taped interview.

The family claims intense questioning from Grace, a former Atlanta prosecutor, caused severe emotional distress that led to the suicide. The lawsuit also claims that the decision to air the interview after Duckett’s suicide caused the family to suffer severe emotional distress and media and public harassment. They are seeking a jury trial, unspecified damages more than $15,000 and punitive damages.

Duckett family attorney Jay Paul Deratany said attorneys would begin taking testimony.

“There is more information out there to be gleaned,” said Deratany. “If Melinda had any information, Nancy Grace stopped the investigation in its track.”

Police have said Duckett is the only suspect in her son's disappearance.

The Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla., reported CNN’s statement responding to Hodges’ order: “This is only a procedural ruling about whether the case should be allowed to go forward. It does not mean that the claims are likely to succeed. We stand by Nancy Grace and her show, and we look forward to the opportunity to mount a full defense in court.”

CNN is a division of Time Warner Inc.