This defamation trial is an extremely high-profile, high-stakes game of “he said she said”.
In some situations leading to legal action, there are misunderstandings, misinterpretations, shades of gray allowing for both sides to be a little bit right, and a little bit wrong; in other cases there is much less room for maneuver or compromise, where the black and white of vehemently and violently opposed positions, stories, claims and evidence are pitched against each other.
“Functionally it’s a libel trial but it’s also the divorce case that never was,” says global head of Withers’ media and reputation team, Amber Melville-Brown, in a recent article published by The Guardian. “These kinds of acrimonious accusations lobbed back and forth are of the kind you’d expect in a nasty divorce.”
The evidence from both sides of the case is what you might expect to find in bitter divorce proceedings: drunken meltdowns, tense arguments, and physical abuse. While Johnny Depp’s $50M defamation suit against Amber Heard hinges on his team’s ability to successfully prove he has suffered damages as a result of Heard’s 2018 Washington Post article, the evidence proffered from both sides of the case indicate the struggles faced by both parties in the relationship.
Depp had already sued the UK newspaper, The Sun in London in 2020, and lost, for calling him a “wife-beater”. He is now seeking reputation rehabilitation in Virginia in the action against his former wife, over her Op Ed in the Washington Post. While the article didn’t name Depp, he argues it refers to and defames him. Amber Heard cites protection under Virginia law for an article on a matter of public interest, and she counter sues in defamation for the accusation that her account is fabricated.
Referring to Depp’s second attempt at vindication, Melville-Brown told The Guardian, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” But she notes it may not be madness to expect a different result, when this time, “This is a different case under different law with different evidence, different parties, different witnesses.”
It is apparent to anyone watching the case live on Court TV, or reading about it in the press, that the parties are intractably entrenched in their opposing positions. “I keep waiting for one of them to get up and rush across the courtroom in true movie-style to say, ‘Sweetie, I’m so sorry,’ shower the other with kisses and say, ‘Let’s just walk away.’” Melville-Brown stated. “Of course, it’s too late for that now. They are so entrenched in their respective positions in the court and with people around the world, they can’t get out of it now.”
We will not know how they will get out of it for a little while yet. Yesterday was the last day of Amber Heard’s evidence for the time being as the court takes a break while the judge hears another matter next week.
The full article in The Guardian can be read here. Other commentary and articles written by Amber Melville-Brown on the matter can also be reviewed in The Times here and in the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal here.