EXCLUSIVE: Attorneys for Amber Heard are planning to ask a Virginia judge on Tuesday to dismiss Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation case against their client. However, the defense team is almost certain to come up short, and they know it.
Under the statutes of the Old Dominion, lawyers for the defense in civil cases essentially are “required,” as one legal source told us, to enter a motion to strike once the plaintiff has wrapped up their case and witnesses.
Zeroing in on the specific claims of plaintiff Depp and evidence presented to support said claims, Heard’s legal team led by Elaine Bredehoft and Ben Rottenborn likely will make the motion Tuesday before Judge Penny Azcarate to agree with, reject or take under advisement, we hear.
With the jury taken out of the courtroom, lawyers for both sides will have an allotted short(ish) time to make their points to Azcarte. After that, unless she makes the unlikely decision to ax the case, the judge will tell the attorneys she’s either immediately refusing the motion to strike or taking some time to think about it. She then will call the jury back in for the defense to commence its case.
Pretty much assured to be unsuccessful in this high-profile matter, the motion’s primary point is to assure certain appeal rights to the defense if necessary. Reps for Heard and her lawyers had no comment on the probable move when contacted by Deadline today.
Depp sued his ex-wife and Rum Diary co-star for big bucks in March 2019 after Heard penned a Washington Post op-ed about be a survivor of domestic abuse. As all sides have stated and anyone who can read can see, the 2018 piece in the Jeff Bezos-owned paper never mentioned Depp by name. Delayed by the pandemic and other issues, the case was challenged several times by Heard to little avail before the five-week trial kicked off on April 11 in the Fairfax County Courthouse.
In summer 2020, the Aquaman star countersued Depp for $100 million. Later that same year, in another wrinkle in the legal fabric, Depp failed in his UK libel suit against The Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife-beater” in print.
Perpetually at the periphery of the Virginia trial, that British case was in many ways a trial run – no pun totally intended – to the current American case. While the burden of proof is much higher in the US for the litigious Depp than the UK for a libel or defamation claim, the British case mainly differs from the current one in so far as Heard was not a party in the case overseas – though she did testify.
“This is the same evidence given in the UK case which he resoundingly lost,” a source close to the Heard camp told Deadline of their POV on the way the Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez-led US case has played out so far. “So I supposed it’s now just a variation on that old saying ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, lie lie again,'” the source added.
Despite all the explicit revelations that have come out from the end of the couple’s marriage, the 2019 lawsuit and this trial so far, this case is legally entirely about what was said in that WaPo op-ed, and what the fallout was – which in no small degree centers on the First Amendment.
In Virginia, Heard is set right now to be the second witness for the defense after clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Dawn Hughes takes the stand. Often wearing sunglasses, Depp took the stand on his own behalf for part of the second and third week of the trial. Big names like Avengers alum Paul Bettany, James Franco and would-be Twitter owner Elon Musk were on pre-trial witness lists for the respective parties.
Last week it became clear Bettany would not be called, despite a toxic mouthful of 2013 texts between the WandaVision actor and Depp attacking Heard were read out in court here, as they were in the UK action. Franco and Musk are not expected to take the stand in person or virtually either now.
What will undoubtedly come up again is Depp’s insistence that Heard’s WaPo op-ed “devastated” his career and cost him lucrative roles in top tier movies such as a still yet-unmade sixth Pirates of the Caribbean flick — even though it seems he was never officially asked to return to the Disney distributed franchise.
As his lawyers have pressed in the five-week trial that started on April 11, Depp has said over and over since mid-2019 that in fact he was the victim of domestic abuse in the relationship, not Heard. Of note, Depp and Heard’s 2016 divorce was characterized by such allegations on her part and a restraining order against the past Oscar nominee. Yet, even after releasing a joint statement on the end of the relationship, Depp never brought up such topics publicly until after the op-ed was published.
With testimony via video link and live in the courtroom, including a security guard who said he saw Heard punch Depp in 2015, the plaintiff’s side inched towards the end of its case on Monday. The day’s session ended with a February 4 2022 video deposition from Erin Falati, also known under her maiden name Erin Boerum, who was a former nurse to the couple. Apparently, the last witness for the plaintiff, the deposition of Heard’s former personal nurse will pick up on Tuesday morning.