Lawyer: Depp’s trial could turn into a mud-slinging soap opera

FAIRFAX, Va. ( Associated Press) — A trial by Johnny Depp over defamation charges against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, will likely turn into a six-week soap opera, Heard’s lawyers warned a Virginia jury Tuesday.

“You’re going to see who the real Johnny Depp is—behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes,” Heard attorney J.J. Benjamin Rottenborn told the jury during the opening statements in the civil trial. “Because Johnny Depp came up with this case, it’s all going to come out.”

Depp sued Heard for defamation in Fairfax County Circuit Court in 2018 after writing an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in which he described himself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

Depp says the article indirectly slanders Heard by citing abuse allegations made by Heard in 2016. Depp denied abusing him.

In an early Tuesday statement, Rottenborn said evidence would show Depp physically and sexually assaulted Heard on multiple occasions. But he told jurors that they didn’t need to referee themselves to the couple’s troubled marriage if they focused on the basics of libel law.

He argued that Heard was exercising his First Amendment rights as an attorney when he wrote the article, which focused on the broader topic of domestic violence.

He also said that the 2018 article did nothing to harm Depp’s reputation. He said the abuse allegations were already public two years ago, and added that Depp’s booming career was the result of his drinking and drug abuse, which made him an unreliable object for Hollywood studios.

“This man’s poor choice has led him to this point,” he said. “Stop blaming other people for your own created problems.”

However, more than anything, he pointed out that Depp’s name is never mentioned in the article in question.

Depp’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew, admitted that Depp’s name never appears in the piece.

“It didn’t have to be done,” Chew told the jury. “Everyone in Hollywood knew what she was talking about.”

Depp’s team argues that the article is an example of “defamation by implication”. In a December 2018 piece, Heard wrote that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger at women who speak up.”

Chew said this is a clear reference to a restraining order Heard sought in May 2016—right after Depp told her he wanted a divorce—in which he claimed she was physically abused.

Chew said she showed up at the courthouse on May 27 of the same year with a bruise on her face, which was photographed by the paparazzi. But he said the evidence would show Heard hurt himself to ruin Depp’s reputation. He said that Depp and Heard hadn’t seen each other since May 21: he went on a European tour with his band, Hollywood Vampires.

Police and others spotted Heard shortly after May 21 and his face was not hurt, Chew said. He said a witness would testify that he saw security footage showing Heard’s sister throwing fake punches at him and the two laughed.

One of Depp’s lawyers, Camille Vasquez, told the jury that Heard refused to admit that he lied and has now dug even deeper.

“She can’t hold back. She’s living and breathing this lie for years,” Vasquez said. “She’s going to give the performance of a lifetime in this courtroom.”

Along with actors Paul Bettany and James Franco and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, both Depp and Heard are expected to testify at a trial scheduled for six weeks.

About 80 people, mostly Depp supporters, were seated in the courtroom on Tuesday. Some people lined up for seats hours earlier, but many of the rows were largely empty.

The courtroom fell silent minutes before the 10 a.m. start time when Heard entered the room, through a special entrance usually reserved for the judge. But when Depp came again a minute later through a special entrance, breathing was heard.

A civil jury of seven members and four alternate members were selected on Monday to hear the case.

Heard’s lawyers had sought a trial in California, where the actor lives. But a judge ruled that Depp was within his rights to bring the case in Virginia because the computer servers for the online version of the Washington Post are located in the county. Depp’s lawyers have said they brought the case to Virginia in part because the laws here are more conducive to their case.

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