Who is Penney Azcarate? Judge presiding over Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial is a MARINE!

Who is Penney Azcarate? Judge presiding over Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial is a MARINE!
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images) with an insert of Chief Judge Penney Azcarate (Anton Scalia Law School)

The second round of Johhny Depp v Amber Heard is set to kick off on April 11, 2022, at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. The six-week trial is expected to draw massive media and public attention, with the court taking numerous steps to prevent the public interest from interfering with the court's other cases. 

Nonetheless, all eyes will be on the court for the next month. The case could give Depp a new lease on life after he lost the libel case in the UK. That loss led to the collapse of his career, with Depp being booted from 'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore', and then being pretty much canceled by Hollywood. Meanwhile, Heard's career remains afloat, with the star set to make a return to the screen in 'Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom' in 2023. 


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If you are wondering why exactly the case is taking place, it has to do with Heard's December 2018 column in The Washington Post. Even though she didn't name Depp directly, it was enough to anger the actor into filing the case because she claimed to be a victim of abuse. Heard then countersued, alleging defamation by Depp's lawyers. Both those lawsuits will be heard in this case, presided over by Chief Judge Penney Azcarate. 

Actors Amber Heard and Johnny Depp attend The Art of Elysium 2016 HEAVEN Gala at 3LABS on January 9, 2016, in Culver City, California. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Who is Chief Judge Penney Azcarate?

The circuit court judge is currently serving an eight-year term that will expire in June 2023. Azcarate was elected by the Virginia General Assembly to the court in February 2015, following a long and prestigious history. She has law degrees from Old Dominion University and the George Mason University School of Law. After graduation, she initially spent four years of active duty with the United States Marine Corps where she reached the rank of Captain, before turning into a reservist to pursue her JD degree at George Mason. Eventually, Azcarate was discharged at the rank of Major.

In 2000, Azcarate then served as an assistant Commonwealth Attorney, before entering private practice. After just three years, in 2008, she became the first female chief judge of the General District Court Bench. Azcarate is the person behind Virginia's novel Veteran's Treatment Docket (VTD), a specialty court designed to help veterans with no prior criminal history. The VTD serves veterans who have committed non-violent misdemeanor and felony offenses, providing them with treatment and mentorship programs designed to reintegrate them into civilian life. 

Judge Penney Azcarate administers the oath of office to 16 elected officials on December 15, 2015, at the Government Center forum in Virginia. (Fairfax County via Flickr)

While Azcarate has heard numerous cases over her long and distinguished career, the Depp v Heard case is likely to be her most high-profile yet. She's already made some waves for her decisions so far, such as allowing a video camera in the courtroom. It is believed to be the first time a video camera will be used in Fairfax County court. The judge also slammed Heard's attempt to have the case dismissed after Heard made three attempts following her win in the UK court.

"If anything, upholding English libel judgments in the United States would create the chilling effect and could create a dangerous precedent," she said at the time. She did, however, grant Heard some respite by allowing the actress to argue her column was a matter of public interest. There's plenty of drama in store for sure, so Azcarate could quickly find herself in the national headlines irrespective of how the case goes. 

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