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As we close another day of Johnny Depp’s testimony in his civil defamation case against his former wife, Amber Heard, we are left with some interesting takeaways from the Virginia courtroom.
For starters, many of the preconceptions about the litigants and about how the trial would likely play out now seem, in hindsight, to have been misconceptions.
This is not uncommon with a case of this nature. Over the past two decades, representing many high-profile clients in high-profile matters, I know full well that these matters do not always play out as planned nor as anticipated. This is especially true when your client is the strong personality type or, in this case, a well-known celebrity.
Johnny Depp is suing his former wife, Amber Heard, for defamation, alleging that she made false and defamatory allegations of domestic abuse in an Op Ed for the Washington Post. Depp claims that Heard’s accusations have irreparably damaged his career and reputation. Depp is seeking money damages. Amber Heard is counter suing.
Given their celebrity status and the publicity surrounding their marriage and break up, there were many preconceptions as this trial approached. Now, as the trial is under way, a few things stand out:
1. Johnny Depp took the stand and is giving testimony. The plaintiff in a civil action (unlike a defendant in a criminal case) almost always takes the stand to give testimony. The plaintiff in a civil action bears the burden of affirmatively proving by a preponderance of the evidence the accusations against the defendant.
The plaintiff must also affirmatively prove that he was harmed as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Here, in order for Depp to prevail on his claims, he must demonstrate for the jury that Heard published a false statement of fact that caused injury to Depp’s reputation.
2. Johnny Depp is proving to be good witness for his case. Any trial lawyer will share with you that even the most well-prepped clients can prove to be terrible witnesses when subjected to direct and cross-examination in a courtroom. Whether it’s a matter of letting their ego get in the way, going off script or just caving under pressure, not all goes as planned in a courtroom.
As this trial got underway, many predicted that Depp might not be the ideal witness. Many expected Depp might come off as aggressive or condescending. That has not been the case at all. Rather, Depp has proven to be a very solid witness thus far. He is calm on the stand, his answers are fairly direct, and he has been respectful.
Generally speaking, jurors tend to believe witnesses who comport themselves in this manner. Jurors are very smart, keen, and aware. They size up witnesses and determine the credibility of testimony not just based on its content, but how it is delivered.
Thus far, Johnny Depp has delivered very reasoned and credible testimony. However, he has not yet been subjected to cross-examination. We will have to wait to see how Depp weathers what it expected to be a tough cross-examination by Heard’s attorneys.
3. Johnny Depp is proving to be a relatable as a person, notwithstanding his celebrity status. Celebrities and other of notoriety often have a difficult time at trial relating to jurors. However, Depp is showing his human side, sharing some of his flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities on the witness stand. This makes him more relatable to the jury, and maybe even sympathetic.
Depp is not speaking down to the jury and not coming across as a privileged celebrity. He is exposing a lot about himself and what appears to have been a difficult childhood, growing up in a family with an abusive mother. His decision to open up about drug use and addiction and his past enables the jury to relate to him and to his vulnerabilities.
4. This case is not a slam-dunk or an easy win for either side. The subject matter of the trial – domestic abuse – is clearly a very serious issue. Surely the jury will struggle with these issues. However, we are in the infancy of this case with much more testimony expected by both Depp and eventually, Amber Heard. It will be interesting to see how Depp holds up on cross-examination. It will also be interesting to see how well Amber Heard holds up on the stand when she delivers what we expect to be a very contradictory account of the events that Depp has detailed thus far.
5. If the jury has a difficult time resolving the discrepancies between the testimony of Depp and Heard, it is likely that the outcome of this case may eventually hinge upon the other evidence expected to be presented – such as medical reports, photographs, witness accounts and expert testimony.
With such serious allegations and people’s reputations on the line, this jury had a difficult task ahead.