Johnny Depp’s lawyers accused his ex-wife, Amber Heard, of fabricating domestic violence claims against him in order to advance her own career, as a defamation trial got underway in Virginia on Tuesday.
Depp has sued Heard for $50 million, alleging that she devastated his career when she revived her allegations against him in a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post.
Heard’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued in their opening statement that her allegations are entirely true, and that she had a First Amendment right to express her views. Her attorney Ben Rottenborn argued that Depp is seeking to ruin Heard’s life by pursuing the lawsuit.
“For years, all Mr. Depp has wanted to do is humiliate Amber, to haunt her, to wreck her career,” Rottenborn argued, calling Depp “an obsessed ex-husband hellbent on revenge.”
The trial is expected to last about six weeks, as 11 jurors will be asked to sort through a mountain of documentary evidence and conflicting testimony to decide who is telling the truth.
Depp’s attorneys — Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez — noted that the Washington Post piece was published just before the release of “Aquaman,” in which Heard starred, and helped her portray herself as a sympathetic advocate.
“She presented herself as the face of the #MeToo movement — the virtuous representative of innocent women across the country and the world who have truly suffered abuse,” Vasquez said. “The evidence will show that was a lie.”
Heard has accused Depp of numerous instances of assault, including times when she alleges Depp grabbed her by the neck, threw her against a wall, kicked her, choked her and punched her. Her attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, went through many of the allegations in detail in her opening statement, including one occasion when Depp allegedly sexually assaulted her with a liquor bottle.
That allegation had not been made public before. In a statement, a Depp spokesperson denied the sexual assault claim. The spokesperson said it was not part of the original allegations surrounding the couple’s divorce in 2016, and emerged only after Depp filed his defamation suit in 2019.
“This follows a pattern of her elaborate, erroneous claims which have continued to change and evolve over time for the purpose of Hollywood shock value of which Amber has mastered and used to exploit a serious social movement,” the spokesperson said.
The trial will go into painstaking detail about drug abuse, violence and trashed apartments. In his opening argument, Rottenborn said that jurors should try to keep their focus on her op-ed, which does not identify Depp by name.
“The article isn’t about Johnny Depp,” he argued. “The article is about the social change she is advocating.”
Rottenborn argued that at the time of the publication, Depp’s career was in freefall while Heard’s career was taking off. The op-ed, he argued, was her attempt to move on from the abusive relationship. But by suing her, Depp is refusing to let her move on.
“This case isn’t about a day-to-day chronicle of their marriage,” Rottenborn said. “It’s not about who you like more. It’s not about which party can sling more mud… Ultimately what this case is about is the First Amendment.”
Heard has filed a $100 million counterclaim against Depp, alleging that his lawyer defamed her by accusing her of fabricating a hoax.
Chew argued that Heard’s allegations have caused severe harm to Depp’s career, because Hollywood studios do not want to face the backlash that comes with hiring someone accused of domestic violence.
“The evidence will show that Ms. Heard’s false allegations had a significant impact on Mr. Depp’s family and his ability to work in the profession he loved,” Chew said. “Ultimately this trial is about clearing Mr. Depp’s name of a terrible and false allegation.”
Depp has alleged that he was dropped from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise after Heard’s op-ed was published. But Rottenborn argued that Disney was discussing dropping him months earlier due to his erratic behavior.
“Any damages he suffered in his career were not because of this op-ed,” Rottenborn told the jury. “It’s time to make Johnny take responsibility… It’s up to you, ladies and gentlemen, to make him do that.”
Depp lost a similar lawsuit in 2020 against The Sun newspaper in the United Kingdom. The judge in that case found that Heard’s allegations were “substantially true,” and that therefore the newspaper did not defame him when it described him as a “wife beater.”