Depp is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation for domestic abuse claims she made against him that he says are false and hurt his career. Heard is counter-suing her ex-husband, also for defamation, for $100 million.
Heard’s attorney, Benjamin Rottenborn, urged the jury to consider the ramifications the case has for not only abuse survivors, but the First Amendment.
Depp’s lawsuit centers around an op-ed Heard wrote in 2018 for the Washington Post in which she describes herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Depp wasn’t named in the piece, but he claims the article references a past — and allegedly false — domestic abuse allegation she made against him via filing a restraining order against him.
Heard claims the piece was not about Depp, but about the aftermath she experienced as a public figure following her divorce from him. However, Depp’s lawsuit utilizes the legal theory of defamation by implication.
“Think about the message that Mr. Depp and his attorneys are [sending] to Amber and by extension to every victim of domestic abuse and everywhere,” Rottenborn said (via Law and Crime Network). “If you didn’t take pictures, it didn’t happen. If you did take pictures, they’re fake. If you didn’t tell your friends, they’re lying. If you did tell your friends, they’re part of the hoax. If you didn’t seek medical treatment, you weren’t injured. If you did seek medical treatment, you’re crazy.”
Regarding the Washington Post op-ed, which largely focused on political themes related to the #MeToo movement, Rottenborn said, “This isn’t a hit piece.”
“If he abused her one time, Amber wins,” the lawyer said, before quickly correcting himself. “Actually, if he fails to prove that he never abused her one time, Amber wins.”
Rottenborn asserted Depp’s burden was to prove he engaged in no form of abuse, be it verbal, emotional, physical or sexual. Based on text messages alone, the lawyer said it’s an easy case.
Rottenborn then read off quotes in which Depp stated he hoped Heard’s “rotting corpse is decomposing in a fucking trunk” and another series of messages in which he wrote “Let’s burn Amber.”
“These words are a window into the heart and mind of America’s favorite pirate. This is the real Johnny Depp,” Rottenborn said.
Depp previously testified his texts about wanting to burn Heard was a reference, in jest, to the British comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Rottenborn then recounted various photos of the alleged abuse Heard sustained that had been submitted as evidence in the trial.
He also pointed out that Depp allegedly had opportunities to take legal repercussions against the abuse claims, such as fighting against the restraining order and the divorce case itself. Depp also signed a statement saying no one made falsified statements.
What’s more, Heard’s other lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, claimed it was Depp’s legal team that allegedly defamed Heard. She cited a prior libel lawsuit in London, which pored over many of the same pieces of evidence, that Depp ultimately lost
Despite Depp’s hope that the trial would help revitalize his career and restore his public image, it has arguably devolved into a public spectacle thanks to the television cameras in the courtroom. The trial has also highlighted some of the most extreme examples of tribalism among fans of celebrities on social media and at the courthouse itself.
Frankly, revelations have surfaced during the trial that doesn’t particularly make either party look good, such as Heard’s unfilled pledges to charity and Depp seemingly downplaying his drug and alcohol use in testimony.
Each side has accused the other of domestic abuse, and each side has accused the other of orchestrating a smear campaign against them in the press.
While Heard maintains she was abused by Depp, Depp claims just the opposite: he was abused by her and not the other way around.
The sheer burden of proving defamation in the U.S. makes it an uphill battle for either party to win their respective lawsuit, since the accuser is the one who must prove the alleged defamer had “malice intent” with their actions.
Depp previously lost a libel lawsuit in the U.K., where it is the burden of the accused to prove their innocence, making it a potentially easier scenario to win from the plaintiff’s point of view. In that case, Depp sued the newspaper The Sun for describing him as a “wife beater” in an article. A judge ruled the article was not libelous because it was based on credible evidence of abuse submitted by Heard.
Closing arguments are expected to wrap up Friday, with jurors’ deliberations on a verdict possibly continuing into next week.