The sons of onetime guest Nancy Campbell-Panitz, who was murdered by her ex-husband after they appeared on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show about love triangles, are suing the trash-TV ringmaster, claiming he created "a mood that led to murder."
Ralf Panitz, 42, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment earlier this year for the July 24, 2000, beating death of his 52-year-old ex-wife.
Filed Wednesday in Florida's Sarasota County Court by Jeffrey Campbell and Gary Campbell, the lawsuit accuses Springer, his producers and the syndicated show's distributor, Studios USA, of setting up Campbell-Panitz. Her sons say their mother was lured to show thinking Springer would help her reconcile with Panitz. Instead, the suit claims, Campbell-Panitz was depicted as the scorned lover in a tawdry show about love triangles.
The sons, who both hail from of Kalamazoo, Michigan, also claimed producers of Springer's Chicago-based show contributed to their mother's death by not doing a thorough enough background check on Panitz and then encouraging him to lie during the taping, which took place in May 2000.
During the episode, titled called "Secret Mistresses Confronted," Campbell-Panitz discovered her ex-hubby had secretly wed another woman in March of 2000, and that the newlyweds wanted Campbell-Panitz out of their lives. The show concluded with Campbell-Panitz being ridiculed by her ex's new wife and heckled by the audience as she left the stage.
Although Campbell-Panitz and Ralf Panitz divorced in 1999, she reportedly still lived with her former husband--even after he remarried. He allegedly split his time between the two women, and all three traded accusations of domestic violence among them.
Prosecutors said that, two months after the taping, Ralf Panitz watched the episode at a bar, stormed off to Campbell-Panitz's residence and--angry that she had since demanded he remove his belongings from her home--flew into a drunken rage and killed her.
Springer, 58, was unavailable for comment, however, his spokeswoman denied either Springer or his program had anything to do with the death.
"Many events occurred that were totally unrelated to the show, making it clear that neither the show, Jerry Springer, or the producers were responsible in any way for this tragedy, even if we are an easy and convenient target," Linda Shafran told the Associated Press.
The Springer case mirrors a negligence lawsuit brought by the family of a slain guest against The Jenny Jones Show. The show and its producers were found liable for $25 million following a now infamous 1995 Jones episode in which the show set up a guest to be "ambushed" by a secret admirer.
After Jonathan Schmitz appeared on the show and found out his secret admirer was a gay man named Scott Amedure, Schmitz killed him. In the 1999 criminal trial, Schmitz was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25-50 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the $25 million verdict against The Jenny Jones Show in the civil case is on appeal.
Ironically, the suit comes after Springer decided in 1998 to cut out all the on-air violence on The Jerry Springer Show, which initially gained fame and grabbed ratings with its shouting matches and televised fist fights.
The suit also comes as Springer, a former mayor of Cincinnati, has been working on building a following overseas. Besides refereeing The Jerry Springer Show Stateside, he's also hosting a more traditional late-night talk show in England and just last week announced a new weekly program called The Jerry Springer Saturday Night to be aired in South Africa beginning this fall.
And despite his first film, The Ringmaster, bombing at the box office, Springer is currently developing another movie and has been recording an album of music.