Johnny Depp heads to Europe as defamation case against Amber Heard goes down to the wire
Johnny Depp is reportedly spending time in Europe to reconnect with old friends, play music, and relax in the countryside as legal experts speculate the outcome of his defamation suit against Amber Heard.
The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' star, 58, sued his ex-wife, 36, for $50 million claiming a Washington Post op-ed she penned in 2018 painted him as a domestic abuser. While Depp wasn't mentioned by name, his lawyers have argued the essay clearly pointed to the abuse allegations Heard made when she filed for divorce in 2016. The 'Aquaman' actress has filed a counterclaim of $100 million accusing her ex-husband of running a "smear campaign" to ruin her career. Court proceedings in Fairfax, Virginia were adjourned on May 5 and will resume on Monday, May 16.
Speaking to the New York Post, legal experts opined that the 'Edward Scissorhands' actor will need to make a stronger case due to his high-profile status. “The First Amendment protects our rights to discuss matters of public concerns – which arguably, in today’s day and age, includes celebrities’ lives,” California entertainment lawyer Mitra Ahouraian told the newspaper. She explained that defamation cases, which are already hard to win in court, become even more difficult when it comes to celebrities as one has to prove "actual malice" on the part of the defendant. “He has this additional burden which is not easy,” Ahouraian said of Depp.
However, the embroiled actor appears to be taking it easy after a source said he's spending the week off from trial in Europe. “Johnny is in Europe taking some time out to rest for a few days, hang out with old friends, playing music, and is taking long walks in the countryside,” the insider said.
Former California judge Halim Dhanidina said the two challenges in such cases are that opinions aren't considered defamatory and that the statements being challenged must be proven false. “Defamation cases are generally difficult, largely because you have this tension between a person’s First Amendment rights to express themselves and the difference between a statement of opinion and a statement of fact,” Dhanidina told the Post. “Statements of opinion generally speaking are not something for defamation suits because you can’t prove or disprove what someone’s opinion is or whether it’s accurate.”
Experts said public figures are required to go beyond simply proving that statements were false and establish that they were made with "actual malice" -- a legal standard that a false statement was made recklessly and while knowing it was untrue. “Neither of them, in my opinion, is going to be able to meet the standard to establish that they were defamed,” Ahouraian said. “It’s probably going to be a wash on either side.” The lawyer noted that “what is front and center” at the moment is whether what Heard said was true or false. “If there is some truth then that’s a loss — that’s not defamation,” she added.
Furthermore, celebrity cases also deal with the person's existing reputation, which could help Depp in this case. “Johnny Depp is largely a well-regarded person,” Dhanidina said. “When you think about what the average American knows about him it’s going to be very popular movies like the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. You can go to Disneyland or Disneyworld and there he is. His image is all throughout that amusement park ride in a very wholesome environment. That gives him an advantage to a certain extent." The former judge added, “If the jurors go into this feeling like they already know him and like him and trust him, then he can’t help but enjoy somewhat of a natural advantage there."
On the other hand, star New York lawyer Richard Altman called Depp's suit “a thin case” and said, “I don’t understand how this case was never dismissed.” He continued, “The [Heard op-ed] article doesn’t point to any specific facts so again it looks like an opinion. A woman who says she was abused is writing about being abused. You can’t have a defamation suit based on opinion.”
Altman noted how the plaintiff bringing a defamation case opens themselves to scrutiny from the other side. “When you file a defamation claim you are putting your entire reputation on the line,” he explained. “You can put your entire reputation on the line and it becomes fair game for attack by the other side so if you have any skeletons in your closet or if you have any past indiscretions they are very likely to come up. Nobody’s perfect so people have to be very careful when they bring these kinds of cases and [Depp] does have this reputation which is being aired in court here all the time,” Altman added.
That said, another challenge in such cases is the burden of proving how the alleged defamatory statements led to monetary loss, as Depp has argued they did. “Part of the difficulty there is connecting those two dots – this false statement led to this economic loss,” Dhanidina said. However, regardless of the outcome, sources close to Depp told the Post that he already feels "vindicated" after being able "to tell his side of the story."