This article on ‘Jhonny Depp vs. Amber Heard Case’ is written By Managya an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The verdict has been given on June 1, 2022 in the high profile case of defamation between Johnny C. Depp, II and Amber Laura Heard. Both parties to the case are famous actors of Hollywood who divorced after two years of marriage. The case has garnered much attention in the six weeks it was tried.
Amber Heard was alleged for defamation on three accounts for damages of 50 million dollars while counterclaim against Johnny Depp for defamation was alleged for damages of 100 million dollars. This article discusses the claims made by Depp and Heard in the case and the jury’s decision regarding the same.
“Depp and Heard married in 2015 after they started dating in 2012. In 2016 she filed a divorce case wherein she claimed that she was verbally and physically abused by Depp when he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Depp denied the allegations and stated that Heard was trying to gain a financial resolution prematurely. She was granted a temporary restraining order against him. Later that year they reached a settlement and their divorce was finalised in 2017.
Heard withdrew the restraining order and both of them released a statement stating that their “relationship was intensely passionate and periodically 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.” He paid her a settlement of 7 million dollars which she donated to a union and a hospital. A non-disclosure agreement preventing them from publicly discussing their relationship was also included in the settlement.
THE UK TRIAL
In 2018 Depp sued the publisher of the UK tabloid, The Sun and its then executive editor for libel. The tabloid had published an article titled: “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?.” The trial focussed on 14 alleged abuse incident between Depp and Heard. In 2020 the judge found allegations against Depp in 12 out of the 14 alleged incidents to be substantially true making Depp lose the case. Depp’s appeal against the verdict was also rejected.”
THE US TRIALS
Depp’s Claims against Heard
In 2018, Amber Heard published an op-ed titled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” in the Washington Post. In the op-ed she also made the statement that “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” Another statement that Heard made in the article is that “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
In 2019, Depp sued Heard for defamation through the abovementioned article. Depp claimed that Heard had engineered an elaborate abuse hoax against him as he also stated that in reality it was he who got violently abused by her.
Even though Depp’s name is nowhere mentioned in the op-ed written by Amber Heard the statements made by her were found to be defamatory in nature. The burden of proof was on Depp to prove that she had planned an elaborate hoax to harass him.
In 2016, during the divorce petition, Heard had made public appearances with bruises on her face. The bruises were alleged to have been staged. Depp claimed that Heard was the abuser in the relationship and not the other way around. He also claimed that all the allegations made by her were untrue and led to the downfall of his career and ruined his life.
Heard’s Claims Against Depp
In 2020, Amber Heard countersued Depp alleging that he used twitter and online petitions to harass her and to get her fired from the upcoming film Aquaman and from L’Oreal. The countersuit also related to the statements made by Adam Waldman, Depp’s lawyer, which were published in the Daily Mail. First statement was that “Amber Heard and her friends in the media used fake sexual violence allegations as both sword and shield, depending on their needs. They have selected some of her sexual violence hoax ‘facts’ as the sword, inflicting them on the public and Mr. Depp.”
The second statement made by Adam relating to a 2016 incident was that “Quite simply this was an ambush, a hoax. They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So, Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.” Thirdly, he also stated that “We have reached the beginning of the end of Ms. Heard’s abuse hoax against Johnny Depp.”
“Amber Heard claimed that she was emotionally, verbally and physically abused by Depp. She also claimed that since the op-ed did not mention Depp explicitly it was not libellous in nature. Heard had photographic and audio recording evidences of alleged abuse by Depp. She also had evidences of chat messages by Depp indicative of violent and abusive behaviour. She had multiple witnesses. Despite all the evidence in her favour she was on the losing end of the trial.
THE JURYS VERDICT
A 7 member jury was constituted to hear the Depp v. Heard case by the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, Virginia. Even though much of the relationship between Depp and Heard unfolded in California the suit was filed in Virginia as the servers of the Washington Post are situated there. The trial spanned over 6 weeks and was televised.
Depp had proved all the elements of defamation that all the three statements were about him trying to defamatorily implicating him with the intention of actual malice. He was awarded 10 million dollars as compensatory damages and 5 million dollars as punitive damages by the jury.
The jury found Adam Waldman’s statement regarding a hoax 911 call made by Heard to be false with malicious intention and hence defamatory in nature. Partly allowing her counter suit Heard was awarded 2 million dollars as compensatory damages and no punitive damages.
In Virginia, for civil lawsuits punitive damages are capped at 350 thousand dollars. Therefore, Amber Heard is liable to pay only 10.35 million dollars from the 15 million dollars that have been awarded to Depp.”
All payments of the awarded amounts would not be made until the ruling of the higher court as it is rumoured that Amber Heard will be challenging the decision in an appeal.
MEDIA ATTENTION ON JHONNY DEPP CASE
The online attention and the unrestricted access to the court proceedings led to a media trial. Few other famous celebrities like Kate Moss and those connected to both of their lives also shared the spotlight as witnesses in the trial while some like Elon Musk recused themselves from it.
Snippets from the footage of the trial was used in making short videos and reaction videos that went viral on TikTok and other such social media platforms. In the online trend #JusticeForJohnny became the winning side’s slogan while animated and remixed videos made Amber Heard and her opinion into a joke. The internet made Depp into a hero for speaking up as his supporters rose to sympathise with him while Heard while Heard became the source of entertainment as the swarm of Depp’s supporters drowned her.
Similar was the situation with how the media treated their legal teams. Heard’s lawyers were portrayed as incompetent. Camille Vasquez from Depp’s legal team was the focus of attention as her video of cross examining Amber Heard trended on social media.
Dior also got much media attention in the duration of the trial as it was the only brand standing in support of Johnny Depp while all others backed down and refused to give him any work.
Defamation case between the two parties was decided both in UK and US wherein a major part of the focus was on whether there was abuse or not. Same parties to case and similar subject matter of the case yet the verdicts in both the countries was poles apart.
It is apparent from the claims of Depp and Heard that both were allegedly subjected to abuse at the hands of each other in the duration of their relationship. Both of them were awarded damages by the jury but Depp has come out victorious on the basis of the size of the award.
The trial was subject to much media attention given that it was televised. Whatever may the actual situation be, the media trial’s verdict made Depp the hero and Heard the delusional vixen.
The outcome of this trial has become a concern as to what impact it will have on the future cases of domestic violence, will it be a backlash for women who speak up against it or will it become a guiding light for men who are victims of domestic violence.
- Explained : Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard -How US Jury Answered Defamation Claims Against Each Other?, 2 June 2022, LiveLaw News Network Retrieved: https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/explained-johnny-depp-vs-amber-heard-how-us-jury-answered-defamation-claims-against-each-other-200676?infinitescroll=1
- Depp-Heard trial: Jury sides mostly with Depp in defamation case, BBC News Retrieved: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61668780
- Jessica Winter, The Johnny Depp–Amber Heard Verdict Is Chilling, 2 June 2022, The New Yorker Retrieved: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-depp-heard-verdict-is-chilling