UPDATE, 9:30 AM PT: Opening arguments today in the trial of Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation suit against Amber Heard painted two very distinctly portraits of the actors and their short-lived marriage.
In a tale of alleged violent abuse, drugs, money, tattoos, infidelity, Marilyn Manson, defecation, couples therapy, and property damage, the Aquaman star’s lead lawyer Elaine Bredhoft pushed back hard on the plaintiff’s POV presented earlier with details of assaults in Australia, plus frequent “paranoid” and “delusional” behavior on the Oscar nominee’s part.
Heard’s attorneys said that they will show that Johnny Depp was an “obsessed ex-husband hellbent on revenge,” who described “the violent side of himself as the monster” while engaging in “crushing drug and alcohol abuse.”
“Amber Heard never wanted to unearth for the public who the real Johnny Depp is,” defense lawyer Ben Rottenborn told the 11-person jury seated in the Fairfax County Courthouse Tuesday. “But that’s going to come out over the course of this trial.”
“You are going to see who the real Johnny Depp is,” Rottenborn added with effect.
“The monster would come out when he was drinking and when he would take the drugs,” added fellow defense attorney Eliane Bredehoft in vivid remarks on the allegedly escalating abuse by the ex-Pirates of the Caribbean star that began early in Depp and Heard’s relationship.
An element of the “real” Depp that Heard’s lawyer are seeking to display was the accusation in court today that the actor “sexually assaulted” his then wife during their short marriage.”You will hear in the most graphic and horrifying terms about the violence that she suffered,” Rottenborn said of the assault, which has been raised in filings before. “You’ll hear that straight from her.”
In his March 2019 lawsuit over Heard’s late 2018 Washington Post op-ed on domestic violence where she referred to herself as abuse survivor, Depp claimed that “Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse, she is a perpetrator.” It should be noted that Heard, who divorced from Depp amidst restraining orders and more in 2016, never mention her former husband by name in the op-ed. In the background of all this today in Virginia is Depp’s 2020 dramatic loss in his UK libel suit against Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun. The paper called the actor a ‘wife beater” in print. A term a British judge said he saw ample evidence for in that trial on the other side of the Atlantic. Getting that matter into this trial is clearly one of the biggest priorities for the defense.
Additionally, after various unsuccessful moves to get the Virginia case tossed out, Heard countersued Depp for $100 million.
Speaking in Old Dominion Judge Penney Azcarate’s courtroom, Rottenborn said that the WaPo piece “isn’t about Johnny Depp. The article is about the social change for which she is advocating and that the First Amendment protects.” The lawyer also challenged the idea that the article cost Depp roles, including the next in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
“The evidence will show that Disney had a dossier on him, that had articles from the press, had other information about Mr. Depp and they didn’t have this article at all in their files, didn’t register with them, just as it didn’t register with the public.”
In a modulated performance without notes, Rottenborn stated that “the public had known since 2016 what Amber had to say about Johnny Depp. This didn’t change any of that.”
Pre-empting the opposition, Bredehoft admitted that Heard did punch Depp on one occasion, as The Tourist actor was in a violent altercation with her sister in the first month of the couple’s marriage. The lawyer also sought to blunt the accusations from the Depp side that Heard reneged on public promises to donate the $7 million settlement she received in the couple’s divorce. “Everyone” knew the money to the ACLU and LA’s Children Hospital was intended to be paid in “installments.” Turning the spotlight on to the actor again, Bredehoft also said that they would show that the well publicized incident where Depp’s finger was severed was actually an act of “self-mutilation.”
As the attorney outlined to the jury, in graphic detail, Depp’s heavy use of booze and drugs, the actor was sitting just a couple of feet away. At one moment, he appeared to stop himself from cringing. On other occasions, Depp leaned over to whisper into the ear of Ben Chew, one of his own lawyers.
Bredehoft also outlined their case for defamation, arguing that the claims that she was making up her allegations of abuse impacted her career, just as she was emerging from the success of Aquaman. Her co-stars in the latter movie “are getting commercials, they’re getting all kinds of different film opportunities. These are the things she would have gotten. Nobody will touch her. She’s a pariah.”
“We’re going to ask you … to hold Mr. Depp responsible, enough is enough,” she said.
In the court of PR opinion, Depp may still have some traction, thinks one industry vet.
“Johnny Depp is one of the best actors of our generation,” PR crisis management specialist Gary Rosen told Deadline today. “It’s unfortunate that his latest starring roles feature his legal battles getting center stage,” the Judith Sheindlin rep notes. “Once that is over, I think if Johnny channels some of his inner Captain Jack Sparrow he can make his A-List career sail again to new heights.”
The trial is expected to last about six weeks. Christi Dembrowski, Depp’s older sister, will be the first witness to take the stand, with more character witnesses expected tomorrow including artist Isaac Baruch, a longtime pal of Depp’s who lived rent free in an apartment owned by the actor during his marriage to Heard. Baruch, who testified via video link in the UK libel trial, is on both Depp and Heard’s witness lists.
PREVIOUSLY: Johnny Depp’s attorneys told jurors that “his name is associated with a lie,” characterizing his ex-wife Amber Heard’s claims of domestic abuse as false accusations that lack any evidence and even suggesting that her 2018 Washington Post op-ed was written to reap publicity from her upcoming movie Aquaman.
Reading from her written notes, attorney Camile Vasquez told jurors that when Heard “took on the role of a lifetime” when she accused Depp of abuse and “painted herself before the world as a representative of abuse victims everywhere.”
“She can’t back down. She has been living and breathing this lie for years now. And she has been preparing to give the performance of her life in this trial. But this trial is about the evidence. It is about the evidence. It’s about a man’s reputation.”
In his statement, attorney Benjamin Chew signaled that his team would focus on the veracity of her claims that he was physically abusive with her during an argument on May 21, 2016, after he said he wanted a divorce.
“The evidence will show that six days after Mr. Depp requested a divorce, and he did so politely, and three days after Ms. Heard’s lawyer threatened Mr. Depp with claims of abuse if he did not agree to her financial demands, Ms. Heard arrived at the courthouse in Los Angeles, California to file for a restraining order alleging abuse,” Chew said. “The evidence will show that Ms. Heard showed up with a mark on her face that mysteriously appeared six days after she last saw Mr. Depp and six days before she publicly filed a request for a domestic violence restraining order alleging abuse.”
He added, “The evidence will show that her publicist and the paparazzi were there at the courthouse to document the event, to make sure that Johnny Depp’s name was forever associated with the image of an innocent, battered woman.”
Two years later, in December, 2016, Heard wrote an op ed in The Washington Post, headlined “I Spoke Up Against Sexual Violence — And Faced Our Culture’s Wrath. That Has To Change.” Although Depp was not mentioned in the article, Chew said that the connection was clear.
“A false allegation can devastate a career and it can devastate a family,” Chew said. “And the evidence will show that Ms. Heard’s false allegations had a significant impact on Mr. Depp’s family and his ability to work in the profession he loved, and loved to bring joy to everyone.”
As Chew spoke, Heard was on the other side of the courtroom, peering down at a legal pad. Depp, in a black suit and shirt and white tie, occasionally swiveled in his chair.
Another attorney for Depp, Camille Vasquez, said that Depp himself was a survivor of his mother’s angry rages. “You will learn from Mr. Depp’s sister, Christie, and from Mr. Depp, that their mother, Betty Sue, lived in a constant state of anger that would boil over daily in viscous words and violence directed and her husband and the children.” She said that Depp “coped with that abuse in the same way his father did — he just took it. The evidence will show that Mr. Depp learned that the best way to deal with violence was to leave.
Vasquez also said that they would challenge the veracity of photos of Heard’s injuries, and that it was Heard who was violent.
She became so violent, in fact, she threw a vodka bottle at him that hit his hand and exploded. It severed the end of one of his fingers,” Vasquez said. As she described Depp’s injuries, he flinched for a half second.
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