A civil jury in Virginia heard opening statements on Tuesday regarding a defamation lawsuit filed by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who has accused the actor of domestic abuse.
The lawsuit is related to a 2018 op-ed Heard wrote for The Washington Post’s online edition, in which she referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse” who “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”
The op-ed does not mention Depp by name, but the actor claims it is defamatory because it refers to previous accusations Heard made when she sought a restraining order against him in 2016. Depp has denied the abuse allegations, as his lawyers stated in court on Tuesday.
“The evidence will show that the clear implication in Ms. Heard’s op-ed that you have in front of you was that she was the victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by Mr. Depp. The evidence will show that that was a lie and it remains a lie when it was repeated and republished two years later,” Benjamin Chew, one of Depp’s attorneys, told the jury.
“Hollywood studios don’t want to deal with the public backlash from hiring someone accused of abuse, even someone with an incredible body of work that Mr. Depp can be proud of. A false allegation can devastate a career,” the attorney continued, despite the fact that many public figures have remained successful after being accused of misconduct.
Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse in their 2016 divorce proceedings, and obtained a restraining order to last until the divorce was finalized the next year. Heard has gone into harrowing detail about more than a dozen incidents, including times she said Depp’s substance abuse issues would trigger a violent personality they both referred to as “the Monster.” Depp would punch, slap, kick, spit on and choke her, according to Heard, who also claimed her then-husband would pull her hair so hard that chunks of it came out.
The “Aquaman” actor has also detailed an incident in which Depp allegedly took several ecstasy pills over the course of three days in Australia, and severely abused her during that time. According to Heard, Depp strangled her, threw bottles of alcohol at her and once ripped off her nightgown.
Depp filed a libel suit against the publisher of the British tabloid The Sun over an April 2018 article that labeled him a “wife beater.” The Sun’s defense relied on allegations Heard made of Depp’s violence between 2013 and 2016. The British high court rejected the lawsuit, ruling that Depp assaulted Heard and made her fear for her life three times. A British appeals court refused Depp’s appeal in that case, saying his attempt had “no real prospect of success.”
“Mr. Depp will have to prove that the words Ms. Heard used [in the Post] were about him and that they were false. If he can’t do that, and if he can’t meet the other elements of the claim, then he loses that claim,” Benjamin Rottenborn, Heard’s attorney, told the jury Tuesday. “Mr. Depp’s team is going to … try to distract you from that simple question. Mr. Depp’s team is going to try to turn this case into a soap opera. Why? I’m not really sure, because the evidence isn’t pretty for Mr. Depp. It’s not.”
“You’re going to see who the real Johnny Depp is,” Rottenborn continued. ’Behind the red carpets, behind the fame, behind the money, behind the pirate costumes, you’re going to see who that man really is.”
Seven people were selected on Monday to serve on the jury and hear the case, with four chosen as alternates. According to Angenette Levy, a Law & Crime reporter who was in the courtroom, the jury appeared to consist of eight men and three women. Heard’s lawyers attempted to have the case tried in the actors’ resident state of California, but a judge ruled that Depp was allowed to bring the case to trial in Virginia because The Washington Post’s computer servers for its online edition are in Fairfax County.
The trial is expected to last over a month, with a long list of witnesses that includes actors Paul Bettany and James Franco, as well as tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.