According to Melinda Duckett, her two-year-old son, Trenton, disappeared from his bedroom at their home in Leesburg, Florida, on August 27, while she was in the next room watching television. Police found a torn screen window, but could find no trace of the small boy.
A month later, a distraught 21-year-old Melina Duckett accepted an invitation to be a guest on the Nancy Grace show. The day after CNN taped her interview with Nancy Grace, Melinda Duckett was found dead of a gunshot wound at her grandparent's home.
According to the suit filed by Jay Paul Deratany, the family claims that Grace's intense questioning during the interview caused Melina Duckett such severe emotional distress that she killed herself.
The family feels further grieved by the fact that the Nancy Grace show aired the interview, even though everyone was aware that Duckett had committed suicide. "We are also saying that the decision to air the interview after the suicide caused her family to suffer severe emotional distress, and exposed them to media and public harassment," says Deratany.
As for Nancy Grace, she has said publicly that she does not believe the suit has any merit. She believes Melinda Duckett knew where the child was, and what caused her suicide, was guilt.
Although Grace and CNN asked the courts to dismiss the suit, a federal judge recently ruled that it can forward.
"The case is not really about the interview itself," says Deratany. "It is about the deception used to get her on the show."
"In the next six months," Deratany says,"depositions with the show producers will demonstrate that."
Deratany does not want to show all his cards now, but he will say, "Melinda Duckett was not told what the full extent of the interview would be."
As Deratany puts it, "she thought she was going to talk about her missing child, and the next thing she knew she was being accused of having something to do with her child's disappearance."
Attorney Deratany also believes that Grace's questioning interfered with the police investigation. "Grace was not the right person to be essentially interrogating Duckett on the air," he says.
To this day, the whereabouts of baby Trenton Duckett is still unknown. Police in Florida are continuing the investigation.
Deratany expects to depose the producers of the show as well as Nancy Grace herself. The case is being filed on behalf of Melinda's parents and the estate of the late Melinda Duckett. "Any proceeds from the case would go to the baby, or a fund to help find the child," says Deratany.
Deratany is known for his work with foster children and foster families. He also handled other wrongful death suits and other suicide cases. "This is really no different than other types of negligence cases, or wrongful death cases. It just has a different twist because CNN is involved and because of their freedom of the press defense," says Deratany.
Any notion that the Duckett case is about the first amendment, adds Deratany, is not an accurate assessment. "This is not a first amendment case," he says. "It is a misrepresentation case. It is a case against them for misrepresenting the reason for her going on the air."
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On behalf of the Duckett family, Deratany is seeking a jury trial, unspecified damages and punitive damages.
Jay Paul Deratany is a graduate of the DePaul School of Law in Chicago Illinois. His firm Deratany & Associates in Chicago specializes in medical malpractice, wrongful death, and foster care issues. Deratany was recognized in 2006 as Chicago's Top Lawyer.