JonBenet Ramsey’s Brother, CBS Settle $750M Defamation Suit
Burke Ramsey’s $750 million defamation case filed against CBS Corp. and other parties who participated in a controversial 2016 documentary about the murder of his sister JonBenet Ramsey has been settled, but those involved aren’t discussing terms of the agreement.
“The parties have reached an amicable resolution of their differences and will have no further comment,” said a statement attributed to spokesperson for producers of the program, “The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey,” which aired in September 2016.
The statement added that no other information would be forthcoming.
James Stewart, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based attorney representing CBS, declined comment when reached at his office.
According to Burke Ramsey’s lawsuit, which was filed in December 2016 in the Circuit Court for Wayne County, Mich., the gist of the documentary was “that Burke Ramsey killed his six-year-old sister,” and that such a claim is “false and defamatory per se” and “Burke Ramsey did not kill his sister and had no involvement in her brutal murder.”
An online register of actions in the case shows that Judge David A. Groner signed an order of dismissal on Wednesday, and that a settlement conference set for March 20 has been canceled, with the notation “case disposed.”
A clerk in Groner’s office on Friday said the order declares that the claims against those producing the documentary “are dismissed with prejudice and without costs or attorney fees. This is a final order and the case is closed.”
The term “with prejudice”means that an action cannot be refiled.
In addition to the CBS Corp., other defendants named in the suit were the production company Critical Content, LLC., plus Jim Clemente, Laura Richards, A. James Kolar, James Fitzgerald, Stanley Burke, nationally known forensic scientist Henry Lee and forensic pathologist Werner Spitz, all of whom participated in the CBS production.
Michigan online court records show that a separate $50 million lawsuit filed by JonBenet Ramsey’s father , John Ramsey, also was terminated by the same judge’s order on Wednesday.
Prior to dismissal of the suits, they had spurred a fight over subpoenas served in the case that made its way into Boulder courts.
A battle had been brewing since last June, when lawyers for Burke Ramsey, who was 9 at the time of his younger sister’s death, served a subpoena for limited Boulder Police Department files. The subpoena was part of the discovery process in his lawsuit against the CBS Corp. and other parties responsible for the September 2016 four-hour, two-part program, “The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey.”
Lawyers representing CBS upped the ante with their own far-ranging subpoena to the Boulder Police Department, as well as to Alex Hunter , the former Boulder County District Attorney who held office through the first turbulent years of the notorious case. While Burke Ramsey’s lawyers’ subpoena to the police was narrow in scope, the bid by lawyers defending CBS was ultimately amended to a voluminous list of 31 items, covering a broad range of what is in the police department files — which after 22 years is said to run more than 60,000 pages.
Targeted items included all DNA reports and related communications completed by the Bode Technology forensic laboratory, all documents produced by former Boulder County Coroner John Meyer, all handwriting analysis, evidence relating to materials found in the victim’s digestive system, and reports pertaining to items of evidence such as a Hi-Tec bootprint and a palm print found on the door of the basement room in which JonBenet’s body was found.
The Boulder Police Department, through the office of the city attorney, had fought its subpoenas from both parties to the defamation suit, arguing in court filings that the chance of interfering with “an ongoing homicide investigation outweighs any potential relevance of the information sought.”
Hunter, who retired 18 years ago and was 81 at the time he was subpoenaed, also fought his subpoena on the grounds that it could compromise an open investigation — but also noted that it would interfere with his annual six-month wintertime stay in Hawaii.
In a ruling dated Dec. 10, Boulder District Judge Thomas Mulvahill granted the Boulder department’s motion seeking to quash that subpoena and granted a protective order.
Mulvahill’s ruling noted that the murder case “remains open and has not been completed,” and also states that Boulder is not a party to the ongoing litigation between Burke Ramsey and producers of the controversial documentary.
But the judge also cited the fact that, with dozens of books and movies and television shows having picked at the bones of the beleaguered investigation for more than two decades, there aren’t a lot of secrets left.
Mulvahill’s ruling stated ”...there is a tremendous amount of information available in the public domain such that Defendants can obtain the subpoenaed information from other sources or through discovery.”
In a separate filing, court records show that Burke Ramsey’s lawyers in November moved to withdraw their subpoena to the Boulder Police Department and dismiss their action. In a one-line ruling, Mulvahill granted that motion on Nov. 13.
The subpoena to Hunter had targeted a broad range of material, including every document relating to JonBenet’s death that he might have retained since leaving office.
Court records show that subpoenas in recent months also had been served on numerous other players in the Ramsey drama, including onetime Ramsey private investigator Ellis Armistead, former Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy, Boulder’s High Peaks Elementary School — which both Ramsey children attended at the time of JonBenet’s death — as well as Dr. Francesco Beuf, JonBenet’s pediatrician.
JonBenet was found murdered in the basement of her parents’ University Hill home the afternoon of Dec. 26, 1996, several hours after her mother, Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report JonBenet was missing and that she had found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her safe return.
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/chasbrennan