Mining script

Johnny Depp flipped the script with his libel lawsuit victory – The Hollywood Reporter

After 13 hours of deliberation, jurors deciding the fate of Johnny Depp’s libel duel with Amber Heard announced that they had reached a verdict. Only there was a problem: they forgot to specify the damage.

Judge Penney Azcarate told the jurors to retire to the deliberation room with no deadline to return. It could have taken an hour or even three days. After all, juries have wide latitude in calculating damages, and there is no formula to follow. We don’t give them a lot of advice.

But just 15 minutes later, the jurors came back with a number. They awarded Depp $15 million in a verdict in favor of the actor on almost every count. Of the award, $5 million was punitive damages intended to punish Heard for particularly reprehensible conduct and to deter similar conduct in the future (later reduced to $350,000 in accordance with the statutory cap of the State).

The ruling stands in stark contrast to the result of Depp’s lawsuit in the UK, where he lost a similar defamation case. A major difference that led to the reversal of Depp’s fortunes, legal experts said, is that his case was decided by a jury, unlike his overseas trial, which was decided by a judge.

“You have seven people on a jury who bring their own baggage with them,” says Amber Melville-Brown, who followed both trials as head of the US media and reputation team at the firm. Withers international lawyers. “A judge may be more accustomed to disassociating himself from the evidence, while a lay group may be less able to do so.”

Depp won a lopsided victory in his lawsuit against Heard on Wednesday, prevailing over all three allegations that he was defamed in his ex-wife’s op-ed in The Washington Post. Heard won on just one of his three counterclaims alleging Depp smeared him by calling his charges a hoax. She was awarded $2 million, with nothing in punitive damages, in the split verdict. (The Job the editorial now includes an editor’s note on the verdict.)

The headline, which turned out to be defamatory, read: “I spoke out against sexual violence – and faced the wrath of our culture. This must change. The other defamatory statements were: ‘Then two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out’ and “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse. Although the statements did not mention him by name, Depp claimed they implied he abused of Heard.

In the UK, Depp lost a similar libel suit against The sun after he called him a “wife beater”. As part of its defense, the tabloid was forced to back up its claims under the country’s strict defamation laws, unlike the US trial, where the burden of proof was on Depp.

The court in this case concluded that The sun proved that 12 of the 14 incidents of abuse were substantially true. The prosecution was not decided by a jury.

The British decision was one of the reasons why Depp’s victory in the Virginia lawsuit was so unlikely. Defamation suits brought by celebrities and other public interest persons in the United States are extremely difficult to win. Part of the reason is that they must prove that the speakers of the defamatory statements made them with actual malice, or knowing that they knew the allegations were lies, or acted with a reckless disregard for the truth.

“In the UK the plaintiff has a much better chance of winning and in the US the defense,” says George Freeman, director of the Media Law Resource Center. “Here, the opposite happened.”

The verdict suggests that jurors rejected Heard’s central theory of the case: that if there was even one case of abuse, she should win because her statements would then be true. The jury was swayed by Depp’s arguments that Heard faked her injuries, which she documented with photographs and audio recordings, to boost her career by claiming her #MeToo moment. They were convinced that Heard had lied about every case of abuse.

“Unlike the UK result, seven people got together in a room and found not only that there weren’t 12 cases of domestic violence, but there were none,” says Lee Berlik, a Virginia-based libel attorney. “Not only that, they found these vague statements to amount to a hoax. It is difficult to reconcile this with a British judge who concluded that [Heard’s] tell the truth.”

Notably, the jurors were not sequestered during the trial in Virginia, which means they may have been exposed to certain third-party information or context regarding the case. The lawsuit proved to be a goldmine for online influencers, who took to Twitch and YouTube for real-time feedback and posted memes on Instagram and Facebook.

Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, argued on NBC Today Thursday that social media played a role in the verdict.

“[The jury] went home every night,” Bredehoft said. “They have families. Families are on social media. We had a 10 day break in the middle because of the judicial conference. It is impossible that they were not influenced by this. And it was awful. It was really, really unbalanced. It’s like the Roman Colosseum.

The #JusticeForJohnny campaign was far more popular than posts supporting Heard. Depp’s post-trial message to fans on Instagram got 17 million likes on Thursday, while Heard’s post got around 300,000. As the trial unfolded, Heard was mocked relentlessly by influencers who claimed she faked her testimony recounting multiple instances of abuse by Depp. She was branded a liar for failing to keep her promise to donate her entire $7 million divorce settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, though she explained that she had to stop making the donations, which had to be paid. over several years, to pay court costs.

“I was told the jurors couldn’t have avoided all the Johnny Depp fans in and around the courthouse and didn’t avoid all the social media chatter for him,” Freeman said. “It’s not unrealistic to think that it had an effect on them. If so, that’s problematic.

Either way, choosing nine truly impartial jurors was a lot to ask. Heard’s abuse allegations against Depp, a former franchise film anchor, have persisted since 2016, when she was granted a domestic violence restraining order. A man was allowed to serve on the jury despite the revelation of a text from his wife calling Heard “psychotic”. The post goes on to say, “If a man says a woman beat him, they never believe him.”

There is also the question of whether the judge should have allowed the case to go to trial in the first place. Before a jury was convened, Heard moved to have the prosecution dismissed on the theory that the statements were not specific enough to infer that they related to Depp.

Berlik took issue with not dismissing the statement: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse,” in particular. While there may be defamation by implication, he wondered how the complaint related to Depp.

“How do seven spirits all agree that was a misrepresentation?” Berlik asked. “It seems more likely that the jury came in and all said, ‘We believe Johnny and we don’t believe Amber. “”

While agreeing with the judge’s decision to allow the jury to decide whether the statement was defamatory, former California appellate judge Halim Dhanidina said, “There comes a time when a statement is so vague that it cannot reasonably be determined to be a statement. fact.”

Dhanidina added, “There is a time when the court has to draw a line.”

Another primary appeal target will be whether the trial should have taken place in Virginia and not California, where both parties reside. Depp at least partially chose to sue Heard in Virginia because the state at the time did not have an anti-SLAPP law, which allows for the early dismissal of lawsuits aimed at chilling free speech. Azcarate sided with the pirate actor that it is appropriate for the case to go to trial in Virginia because the editorial was printed in Jobat the Springfield plant.

Had the case moved to California, Heard could have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit out of hand under California’s generous anti-SLAPP law. By doing so, Heard would have shifted the onus onto Depp to prove he was likely to prevail in the case. Legal experts agreed that a change of venue likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the trial, but it would have provided another arrow in Heard’s quiver. Combined with a new judge making different decisions, such as allowing the trial to be broadcast publicly, this may have allowed him to take the plunge.