The verdict in what has been called the libel trial of the century is coming on Monday — but don’t imagine that’s the end of this unpalatable, yet irresistible drama, starring Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Not by a long, long way.
While a costly end may be in sight for News Group Newspapers, publishers of The Sun, whom Depp sued over a 2018 article which called him a ‘wife beater’, there’s plenty more to come.
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million (£39million) for libel in another trial about to take place in America — he’s due to meet her lawyers in ten days time to give evidence.
And it can be revealed that she is counter-suing for an astonishing $100 million (£78million) saying that he and his legal team have mounted a global smear campaign against her.
The verdict in what has been called the libel trial of the century is coming on Monday — but don’t imagine that’s the end of this unpalatable, yet irresistible drama, starring Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Not by a long, long way, writes ALISON BOSHOFF
It’s a skirmish which will be every bit as down and dirty as the jaw-dropping action at the High Court this summer, where tales of ‘dirty protests’, drug and drink binges and violent, gory fights had the world gripped.
Both parties want this forthcoming action to be the last word on the supremely toxic split.
Meanwhile, in a sensational development last week, Depp’s smooth-talking lawyer Adam Waldman — a controversial figure who is also a close personal friend — was booted off the case by the judge for serious misconduct.
So what is the truth about Depp’s ‘dirty’ campaign — and who is likely to ultimately claim victory after this legal marathon?
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN COURT ON MONDAY?
Johnny Depp, 57, sued News Group Newspapers over a 2018 article in The Sun that questioned his casting in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise and called him a ‘wife beater’ — which he strenuously denies.
This July, both Depp and Heard, 34, gave evidence before Judge Andrew Nicol during a three-week hearing at London’s High Court.
Depp told the court he was never violent towards his ex-wife and that she had attacked him on numerous occasions.
He said he lost the tip of a finger after she threw a vodka bottle at him during one ferocious row.
Heard said Depp would turn into ‘the monster’ after bingeing on drugs and alcohol and had often threatened to kill her.
She detailed 14 occasions of violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her.
Depp is suing Heard (pictured centre) for $50 million (£39million) for libel in another trial about to take place in America — he’s due to meet her lawyers in ten days time to give evidence
The couple met while making the 2011 film The Rum Diary and went on to marry in February 2015, but Heard filed for divorce 15 months later.
Mr Justice Nicol will deliver his judgment as to whether the article was substantially true and whether it caused serious harm to his reputation on Monday, November 2 at 10am.
Usually, a physical copy of the judgment would be handed down by the clerk to reporters in court.
But due to Covid-19 restrictions, the judgment will be handed down remotely and no event will take place at the High Court building.
It will be available to view on a website. If Depp wins, his lawyers have argued he would be entitled to ‘very substantial damages’.
Both Depp and Heard have plans to make a statement — Depp through his lawyer and Ms Heard via her PR firm Powerscourt.
Ms Heard had agreed to an interview with ITN but has since pulled out.
SO WILL THIS SORRY SAGA BE OVER THEN?
No. On top of the London action, Depp has also filed a $50 million (£39 million) defamation lawsuit against Heard over an opinion piece she wrote in The Washington Post in 2018.
It was headlined: ‘Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.’
Depp believes this article cost him his role as Capt Jack Sparrow in the planned sixth instalment of the mega-budgeted franchise Pirates Of The Caribbean.
He is being forced to break off from filming the Fantastic Beasts 3 sequel in the UK to give a deposition of his evidence to her lawyers in Virginia for three days, on November 10 to 12.
The case is then scheduled to run for three weeks in May next year, after months of legal to and fro with the two parties and their filming schedules, and delays caused by Covid.
It’s a skirmish which will be every bit as down and dirty as the jaw-dropping action at the High Court this summer, where tales of ‘dirty protests’, drug and drink binges and violent, gory fights had the world gripped
In her article, Heard described herself as a survivor of domestic abuse. Depp wasn’t named.
In December last year, her lawyers said that she was merely stating an opinion based on her experience and should be protected via the First Amendment in the U.S. — the right to free speech.
She — unsuccessfully — sought to have Depp’s case thrown out, Judge Bruce White noting that Heard becoming a public figure representing domestic abuse ‘would reasonably cause readers to conclude she was referring to her experience with Mr Depp, despite her efforts to globalise the statement’.
This will be a jury trial — unlike the High Court action.
It will take place in Fairfax County in suburban Washington, because this is where The Washington Post is printed.
Heard’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said: ‘We remain confident Ms Heard will prevail at trial when the jury is presented with evidence on the question that the court identified — namely, whether Ms Heard was abused by Mr Depp.’
Heard’s team accused Depp of trying to evade them.
They said he told them he wasn’t available until late February 2021 to give a deposition — but had spent some of September attending various film festivals during breaks from filming.
AMBER BLASTS ‘DEPP SMEAR CAMPAIGN’
Meanwhile, Amber Heard is counter-suing Depp.
She says that he threatened to kill her before they were married, subjected her to physical abuse during the marriage and is continuing to victimise her using a lawsuit and a smear campaign which is characterised as ‘wilful, malicious and elaborate’.
The ‘dirty campaign’ has accused her of perjury and of making ‘hoax’ allegations of domestic abuse.
Her lawyers say it amounts to ‘an attempt to ruin her life and her career simply because she was a victim of domestic abuse and violence at the hands of Mr Depp and had the audacity and temerity to finally come forward’.
Two Change.org petitions were organised, calling for her to be sacked from the Aquaman sequel and her lucrative advertising contract with L’Oreal.
In her article, Heard (pictured in July with her lawyer Jennifer Robinson) described herself as a survivor of domestic abuse. Depp wasn’t named
Her suit suggests the petitions are ‘well beyond the skillset of the average internet troll or disgruntled fan’ and her team claim that Depp ‘has initiated, coordinated, overseen and/or supported’ them.
They also claim that he or his team have created and coordinated social media accounts which attack her, and praise Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman.
According to Heard’s legal team, these Twitter accounts are ‘bots’ and have a tweet to retweet ratio which is ‘implausible’ and are deliberately set to inactive to prevent shut down.
They also republish each other’s content in similar language in a way which ‘belies human control’.
In documents filed in August, she notes that the most prolific accounts routinely retweet statements made by Waldman, and that ‘dozens if not hundreds’ of Twitter accounts praise him and impugn her.
A number of them are foreign with Cyrillic signatures, ‘reflecting Russian origin’.
The counter claim says: ‘Mr Waldman, Mr Depp’s attorney, has publicly associated with Russian individuals with the capability to organise such attacks.’
It adds that the ‘concerted effort to harm’ Ms Heard has included numerous ‘false statements’ about her.
These include a GQ interview with Depp dating from November 2018 when he denies attacking her.
It also includes several tweets from Waldman — most of them made during the trial in July — which say that Heard is a ‘serial liar’ and accuse her of perpetrating a ‘hoax’.
Waldman also told a website, The Blast, that she had ‘painted on bruises’ and that she and her friends had re-staged an apartment and lied about her injuries to make it look as if there had been a physical fight there.
Heard suggests that the motive for the campaign was simply an attempt by waning star Depp to ‘remain relevant’.
THE CHEWBACCA DEFENCE PLOY
Waldman has characterised Heard’s counter claim as ‘the Chewbacca defence’ on Twitter.
This is named after a famous episode in the satirical cartoon South Park where a lawyer argues: ‘If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit!’
Waldman wrote: ‘The ‘Chewbacca Defence’ is a legal strategy deploying false and irrelevant nonsense to confuse and distract from the truth.
‘Absurd allegations of Russian bots, fake social media accounts, ‘campaigns of terror’ —our abuse hoax opponents have been watching @Southpark.’
Depp’s controversial lawyer Adam Waldman was front and centre at the London trial
DEATH THREATS AND LADY GAGA’S EX
A grim text message, sent by Depp to Christian Carino, Lady Gaga’s ex fiancé who is also his friend and agent, abusing Amber and swearing eternal vengeance has been made public as part of Heard’s counter claim.
Her team say the text, sent in 2016, reveals Depp’s ‘true personality’ and is filled with ‘anger hatred and violence’.
It certainly makes interesting reading: Heard is described as a ’50-cent stripper begging for total global humiliation’, with Depp adding that he would ‘not touch her with a goddam glove’.
And there’s more . . . the text continues describing the former Mrs Depp as a ‘gold digging, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless dangling overused flappy fish market . . .’ and ‘waste of a *** guzzler’.
She is also called an ‘inhuman scum filled suckfish’ and ‘see through disposable sick f***in whore . . . no better than any junkie hooker with bad intentions’.
He adds: ‘I can only hope that karma kicks in and takes the gift of breath from her . . . sorry man, But NOW I will stop at nothing!!!’
RUSSIAN OLIGARCH AND THE LAWYER . . .
Depp’s controversial lawyer Adam Waldman was front and centre at the London trial. He went to court with Depp every day and stayed with him at the Corinthia London hotel.
He was also with Depp when he visited a nearby pub.
The two men have been friends for three years and Waldman has presided over legal actions against Depp’s former managers.
He was noted for aggressive toned tweets aimed at reporters or media organisations who he disagreed with, often saying: ‘R.I.P’ or ‘In Memoriam’.
He has worked as a Washington lobbyist for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska since 2009 when he helped Deripaska get a visa.
It has been revealed that one year the metals tycoon paid him more than $500,000 (£39,000). His company say Waldman advises Deripaska’s company on legal issues.
Depp is being forced to break off from filming the Fantastic Beasts 3 sequel in the UK to give a deposition of his evidence to her lawyers in Virginia for three days, on November 10 to 12
It was revealed that Waldman made numerous visits to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2017. Waldman also served as a counsel for Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.
According to filings, Deripaska has paid Waldman via a series of offshore firms, with cash routed via shell companies in the British Virgin Islands, Belize and Jersey.
One of Deripaska’s companies, Sea Chaika Corporation, appears in the Panama Papers and paid $85,000 (£66,000) to Waldman’s accounts in 2010.
Waldman is married to leading German cosmetic doctor Barbara Sturm.
The couple attended the Berlin premiere of Depp’s film Minimata and Depp more recently took part in an Instagram fund-raising live stream hosted by Sturm, performing Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’.
. . . WHO WAS THROWN OFF THE CASE!
Last week, Judge Bruce White threw Waldman off Depp’s case. He found the lawyer had leaked confidential information, covered under a protective order, to the media.
Heard asked for the move, claiming Waldman was responsible for disseminating audio recordings, surveillance pictures and declarations from third-party witnesses to websites and Twitter users: ‘Leading readers and potential jurors to believe that these declarations are somehow official case documents, which they are not.’
Benjamin Chew, of Brown Rudnick, who has been involved with the Virginia case throughout, will head the team in future.
Both he and Waldman declined to comment this week. Waldman had protested that Heard’s lawyers had done the same thing.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE THE SUMMER?
Amber Heard had a holiday in Turkey and then returned to Los Angeles for filming. She has posted numerous pictures on Instagram with her horses.
Her girlfriend Bianca Butti, a director, has been making a film in Vermont.
Depp has been in Europe, mostly in London. Shooting on Fantastic Beasts 3 is well underway. He has also been to two European film festivals.
Gina Deuters, the girlfriend of his assistant Stephen, has posted pictures of him on a private jet and on the red carpet in recent weeks.
AND THE ULTIMATE WINNER IS . . ?
The stakes are high — a bad loss, with damages and fees in millions, could bankrupt either half of this former couple.
You might imagine that Depp is better placed to weather the financial storm, but as he detailed in court, he has ‘lost’ £500 million and was said in 2018 to be on the brink of bankruptcy.
He’s taken on a number of lucrative film roles since then, earning up to £40 million for the Fantastic Beasts films.
You might imagine that Depp is better placed to weather the financial storm if he loses the court case, but as he detailed in court, he has ‘lost’ £500 million and was said in 2018 to be on the brink of bankruptcy
He owns multiple properties said to be worth £30 million in total. This includes five houses in the Hollywood Hills worth £15 million, a compound in France and a private island in the Bahamas.
However, Heard is seeking huge damages in the Virginia case, plus compensation.
Both have long cultivated edgy images, but both have been damaged by the global publicity about their drug-and-violence-filled marriage.
As is always the case, perhaps the only winners will be the lawyers: even before these actions, there was something called the ‘Johnny Depp litigation train’ referring to the numerous suits filed by him, costing many millions of dollars.