FAIRFAX, Va. – A trial for Johnny Depp’s defamation charges against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, is likely to turn into a six-week soap opera, Heard’s lawyers warned a Virginia jury on Tuesday.
“You’re going to see who the real Johnny Depp is: behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes,” Heard J. Benjamin Rottenborn’s attorney told the jury during the opening statements of the civil trial. “Because Johnny Depp brought this case, it’s all going to come out.”
Depp sued Heard for defamation in Fairfax County Circuit Court after she wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Depp says the article indirectly defames him by referring to the allegations of abuse that Heard made in 2016. Depp denies abusing her.
In initial statements Tuesday, Rottenborn said the evidence will show that Depp physically and sexually assaulted Heard on several occasions. But he told jurors they don’t need to become arbiters of the couple’s turbulent marriage if they focus on the basics of the defamation law.
He argued that Heard was exercising her First Amendment rights as an advocate when she wrote the article, which focused heavily on the broad topic of domestic violence.
He also said the 2018 article did nothing to damage Depp’s reputation. He pointed out that the allegations of abuse had already been public for two years and said Depp’s spiraling career was the result of his alcohol and drug use, making him an unreliable product for Hollywood studies.
“This man’s bad choices have led him to this point,” he said. “Stop blaming other people for your own problems.”
More than anything, however, he noted that the article in question never mentions Depp’s name.
Depp’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew, acknowledged that Depp’s name never appears on the piece.
“It wasn’t necessary,” Chew told the jury. “Everyone in Hollywood knew exactly what he was talking about.”
Depp’s team argues that the article is an example of “defamation by implication.” In the December 2018 piece, Heard wrote that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse and felt the full force of our culture’s anger at the women who speak.”
Chew said it is a clear reference to a restraining order Heard filed in May 2016, just after Depp told him he wanted a divorce, in which he claimed he had been physically abused.
Chew said he appeared in court on May 27 of that year with a bruise on his face that was photographed by the paparazzi. But she said the evidence will show that Heard harmed herself to ruin Depp’s reputation. He said Depp and Heard hadn’t seen each other since May 21: He had gone on a European tour with his band, the Hollywood Vampires.
Police and others saw Heard immediately after May 21 and his face was not hurt, Chew said. He said a witness testified that he saw security footage in which Heard’s sister punched him and the two laughed.
Another of Depp’s lawyers, Camille Vasquez, told the jury that Heard refuses to admit that he lied and now goes even deeper.
“She can’t go back. She’s been living and breathing this lie for years,” Vásquez said.
Both Depp and Heard are expected to testify at the six-week trial, along with actors Paul Bettany and James Franco, and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
About 80 people, mostly Depp supporters, sat in the room on Tuesday. Some people lined up hours before to get seats, but several rows were largely free.
The courtroom was silent a few minutes before the 10 a.m. start time when Heard entered the courtroom, for a special entrance usually reserved for the judge. But there was an audible breath as Depp came in a minute later, again for a special entry.
A seven-member civil jury, plus four alternates, was selected on Monday to hear the case.
Heard’s lawyers had sought to have the case tried in California, where the actors reside. But a judge ruled that Depp was entitled to take the case to Virginia because The Washington Post’s computer servers for its online edition are located in the county. Depp’s lawyers said they took the case to Virginia in part because the laws here are more favorable to their case.
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Depp’s defamation case against Heard begins with initial statements
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