Johnny Depp’s Avoidance of the First Amendment Core Of $50M Could Be Key To Victory: Analysis
On the eve of the jury’s first day of deliberations, Johnny Depp s $50 million defamation case against Amber Heard has turned into a mess of misdirections and repugnance.
After six weeks, both the plaintiff and defense decided to rest their cases Friday. A seven-member jury then met behind closed doors to resolve the courtroom drama.
Both a Depp-wearing Heard and a Heard sat in the Fairfax County Courthouse Courtroom. Their respective lawyers presented pugilistic closing arguments last Wednesday, seemingly to paint the opposing side in the worst light. The defense delayed the last hours to frame matters around the First Amendment. This was a bizarre decision given the celebrity deluge that began on April 11. The live-streamed case, which saw Depp and Heard take the stand twice has captured the attention of a large portion of the country and beyond. It also captured the attention and concern of commentators about its potential social implications.
The case is not about drug addiction, private islands, or gold-digging, as well as sexual assaults and severed fingers, which is what it seems to be. Heard made claims of sexual, psychological, verbal, and physical abuse during the trial. It was almost an afterthought that Depp sued his ex-wife in March 2019, for a late 2018 Washington Post editorial the actress had written about her becoming “a public figure representing domestic violence.”
Although Depp was not mentioned in the ACLU-written article in the Jeff Bezos newspaper, he claimed that it “devastated his already fragile career.” Depp claimed that he was the victim of the abuse in the relationship.
Heard sued for $100 million after the case was not dismissed or moved from Virginia. This action was taken months before Depp’s UK Libel Case against The Sun tabloid, in which he called him a “wifebeater”, proved disastrous in November 2020.
There has been a circus atmosphere outside the Virginia courthouse since the beginning. This was largely due to the Pirates of the Caribbean actor. Many of the “Deptford Wives” have been accused of being their idols. Heard and a smaller group of supporters of Aquaman star Heard wonder why their cause hasn’t been supported by the #MeToo movement, or why the actress has not been treated as the Harvey Weinstein incarcerated victims.
However, this is a defamation suit, one that Depp voluntarily filed not only once, but in many ways twice — on both the Atlantic and the other. Depp’s British appeals were rejected by Warner Bros after he was removed from J.K. Rowling’s latest Fantastic Beasts pic shortly after the shocking UK verdict.
Heard admitted almost during the trial that Depp was being referred to in the WaPo Op-Ed. However, Depp’s threshold for defamation is higher than any case involving public figures. Even more so than the UK case. Depp must prove that Heard’s words were false and that she was acting with actual malice to get a unanimous verdict.
Was that possible?
There was a lot of evidence that Depp and Heard presented during the trial. This included audiotapes and video clips, as well as vile text messages. This likely was one of the reasons why the trial became so fascinating for so many.
I Heard’s team points out a video that was leaked to TMZ by Depp in which he is slamming cabinets. He then says to his wife, “You want crazy?” He then appears to grab her phone. Heard was a victim of physical abuse and has been accused of a variety of allegations. In particular, Depp allegedly struck Heard on the head in December 2015 and pulled out her hair strands. The photos she showed her legal team afterward were of her with bruises under her eyes, what looked like a nosebleed, and a clump on the ground.
Depp claimed that he had buttheads with his wife that night, but that it was accidental.
He said that he was not the one who had struck Heard.
Depp’s legal team was also represented by Brown Ruddick’s Benjamin Chew, Camille Vasquez, and a recording of Heard taunting Depp about his career, and at one point she admitted that “I didn’t punch you.” Depp claimed that Heard had thrown a large vodka container at him in March 2015. The strike and exploding glass caused the tip of Depp’s finger to be severed. This incident was repeatedly referred to and analyzed during the trial. Heard detailed multiple sexual assaults with bottles, and more. Heard claimed that a raging Depp caused the damage to his digits in Australia during the rough filming of Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales.
This was all presented in detailed, long-winded detail using video and audio, psychologist’s notes and diary entries, as well as X-rays and X-rays. Depp’s finger was the subject of an expert witness orthopedic surgery. Both were paid handsomely for their insights and time, it should also be noted.
However, the duopoly of claims about whether one was abused misses an important point about defamation cases.
Depp claims that Heard defamed him and that his once-blockbuster career was ruined by the Post Op-ed. Heard’s team presented testimony by Depp’s former UTA agent that Depp’s tardiness and substance abuse had already become a problem in 2015. This was well before the op and the couple’s temporary restraining orders. Heard’s legal team, led by Elaine Bredehoft, and Ben Rottenborn, claimed that Disney wanted to remove Depp from the Pirates series before the Post op-ed. While Depp might not have done any favors by admitting that he would not take the role if it were today,
Rottenborn asked Depp to cross-examine him. “If Disney presented you with $300 million and a billion alpacas to help you make a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, what would you do?” Correct?” Depp replied.
Yet, these moments of clarity aside, it is still a mystery as to why Heard’s team allowed their client and themselves to get lost in details about the couple’s every fight and disagreement. The strategy was to defeat Depp’s team and overwhelm the jury with so many photos, texts, and audio clips that they conclude it strains common sense there wasn’t at least one instance. Heard’s team has lost the plot and sometimes the attention of the jury.
Hearing’s statement about domestic abuse and how it can take many forms is all that she has to prove. It seems like Heard’s team was unable to take the offensive during the trial and ask an obvious question: Why isn’t Johnny Depp also suing the Washington Post?
The Post printing of its paper in Virginia was initially offered as an argument for Heard in Old Dominion. However, the company was never named as a defendant.
Depp decided not to risk his career by battling the wealthy Bezos and instead chose to pursue what was essentially a divorce proceeding disguised as a defamation matter. This carried all of the potential risks that Heard and Depp’s dirty laundry would be made public as it has been for the past three years at the docket, and particularly over the last two months in Judge Penney Azcarate’s courtroom. Although Depp’s ex-agents and handlers might believe that Depp’s determination to continue with litigation is hurting his career in the end, Depp appears to be certain that it is a strategy that will help him win, even though he acknowledged on the stand that abuse claims will forever be a negative mark on his reputation.
Depp, who was somewhat distraught, told jurors that he had taken the witness stand last week and that he did so because he did “get here” and that despite the odds, ‘I did tell the truth. I have spoken out for what I have been reluctantly carrying for six years.
Perhaps he is correct.
Perhaps all the attention he has paid to the trial has given him a better chance at the court of public opinions than any type of divorce proceeding. He might win, even if the trial is unsuccessful. He may be seen as a turning point against the #MeToo movement. Advocates might find that dispiriting. This could be another example of his quirky personality, which his fans embrace outside the courthouse, even though he lost his first case.
Depp arrived at the courthouse in the morning and said, “Alpacas. Dinosaurs. You can find everything. It’s paradise!” His fans loved it. It was a huge success and the media embraced it. Heard was repeatedly attacked online and degraded. No one from Depp’s camp called for restraint. The blast radius enacted the “global humiliation”, which the actor claimed he would bring down upon his ex-wife.
We all know that there will be more appeals and lawsuits, regardless of who wins. The question is now: Will the jury be able to push aside the thick fog and focus on the true legal principle? It’s not clear if the First Amendment is being applied.