After an explosive six-week libel trial followed by millions on social media and live TV, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard each face an uphill battle: trying to rebuild their images and careers. Depp already has a head start, with a jury verdict Wednesday largely favouring his narrative, that his ex-wife defamed him by accusing him of abusing her.
“Depp has a hill to climb. Heard has a mountain to climb,” said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis mitigator in Washington with no involvement in the case. “If Depp keeps his expectations proportional and understands that he’s unlikely to hit his former heights, he can have a solid career if he takes things slowly. After all, he was vindicated in court, not declared a saint.”
The challenge for Heard, Dezenhall said, is that rightly or wrongly, some believe she abused and perhaps even tarnished a worthy movement, #MeToo.
With a he said-she said edge to the drawn-out trial, the verdict handed down in Fairfax County, Virginia, found that Depp had been defamed by three statements in a 2018 op-ed piece written by Heard, who identified herself as an abuse victim. The jury awarded the Pirates of the Caribbean star more than $10 million. Jurors also concluded Heard was defamed, by a lawyer for Depp who accused her of creating a hoax surrounding the abuse allegations. She was awarded $2 million.
Given that such cases are notoriously hard to win, was the defamation route the way to go? Some observers with experience in high-profile cases believe Depp’s decision to sue — even though it meant dragging his and Heard’s personal lives through the mud — was a last-ditch attempt to bolster his star power after his failed London libel lawsuit against The Sun for describing him as a “wife beater.”
“I think the defamation case was a Hail Mary,” said David Glass, a Los Angeles family law attorney with a Ph.D in psychology.
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Married just 15 months, Depp sued Heard for $50 million over the op-ed for The Washington Post in which she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” She didn’t identify Depp by name and it was published two years after she began making public accusations against him.