The trial in the defamation suit filed against actor Amber Heard by her ex husband Johnny Depp begins on Tuesday. The suit was filed by Depp over an op-ed piece that Heard wrote, addressing her experiences with domestic abuse at the hands of the former. It is expected to go on for six weeks.
This trial is the latest development in the long legal battle between the two and Silverscreen India brings you this explainer on what has happened thus far as well as the current proceedings.
Heard and Depp started dating in 2012, after meeting on the sets of The Rum Diary, and got married three years later. However, their marriage was short-lived and ended in 2017.
Heard filed for divorce in 2016, alleging that she was subjected to domestic abuse and violence at the hands of Depp. Heard also obtained a restraining order against Depp. The two have been engaged in a prolonged legal battle since.
Although Depp denied the abuse, the couple eventually settled in August 2016 and released a joint statement that read, “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Depp paid Heard a settlement of $7 million that she pledged to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. And it seemed like they had put the past behind them.
However, things changed when, in December 2018, Heard wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post and shared her experiences as a domestic abuse survivor.
While she had kept Depp’s name out of it, the latter slammed her with a defamation suit for $50 million in early 2019, claiming that her article had impacted his career and cost him a few projects.
“The op-ed depended on the central premise that Ms Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Mr Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her,” the suit read, and added that the piece was Heard’s attempt to generate “an elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity.”
In response to it, Heard filed a $100 million counterclaim against Depp.
In the midst of this, Depp also filed a libel suit against the British tabloid The Sun, for calling him a “wife-beater.” But, that lawsuit was rejected by the British High Court in 2020. In its ruling, the court also observed that 12 of the 14 alleged domestic violence incidents had occurred.
Heard attempted to get the defamation suit quashed in the US after Depp lost the libel case against The Sun. However, the judge noted that The Sun’s libel suit was about whether or not the statements published by the newspaper were false, while Heard’s defamation charge related her own statements. The court thus allowed the defamation suit to proceed and the case is now up for hearing.
Meanwhile, as a consequence of their legal battle, Depp was dropped from big-budget projects like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean as well as the new Fantastic Beasts film.
Although Depp’s fans demanded that a similar treatment be meted out to Heard, the producers of Aquaman clarified that they had no plans of removing her from the franchise.
Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia is scheduled to hear the opening statements from both parties on Tuesday. An 11-member jury was selected on Monday ahead of the trial. While seven members will ultimately deliberate, the other four have been selected to serve as alternates.
Judge Penney Azcarate is to preside over the trial, which will take place from Monday through Thursday each week. There will be a break in between from May 9 to 12, as Judge Azcarate is to attend a previously scheduled judicial conference.
The high-profile case is expected to see a star-studded witness list, including names like Elon Musk, actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, among others.
The trial is taking place in Virginia as Depp’s legal team successfully argued that it should be held there as the state is home to two offices of The Washington Post, where the paper is physically published.
A potential reason for them pushing for this location could be Virginia’s more lenient Anti-SLAPP law as compared to California, according to the BBC.
The Anti-SLAPP (Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law aims at protecting the defendants of meritless lawsuits by invoking the First Amendment, or the right to protect one’s speech. It is primarily intended to protect the news media in matters of public interest.
The degree of Anti-SLAPP protections vary significantly from state to state. For instance, in California, the law is more broad and protects speech made in connection with a public issue, like domestic abuse. Virginia, on the other hand, has no allowance for invoking these protections at an early stage of the proceedings.
Heard, thus, will not be able to dismiss the suit right away.
Ahead of the trial, a representative of Depp’s told Deadline, “He’s not trying to punish her or humiliate her. He just wants the truth to come out. He wants to clear his name.”
It remains to be seen if Depp will be able to clear his name and prove that Heard’s op-ed did, in fact, impact his career as an actor.