Opening statements are expected on Tuesday in Johnny Depp’s U.S. defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard, the latest chapter in a long-running legal fight between the two Hollywood stars.
Depp, 58, has sued Heard for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she penned a 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse.
The op-ed never mentioned Depp by name, but Depp’s lawyers have said it was clear Heard, 35, was referencing him, and that the piece damaged his film career and reputation.
Depp, known for his work in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, has denied all allegations of abuse. Depp said in his lawsuit that Heard’s claims were an “elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career.”
A state court judge in Fairfax County, Virginia is overseeing the trial, which could last six weeks. A jury was selected on Monday and opening statements are slated to begin on Tuesday.
The U.S. trial comes less than two years after Depp lost a libel case against The Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled he had repeatedly assaulted Heard and put her in fear for her life.
In the U.S. case, Depp and Heard both submitted long lists of potential witnesses they could put on the stand.
Heard’s list includes her ex-boyfriend and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who she texted with about Depp. Also on the list of potential witnesses is actor James Franco.
Depp wants jurors to find that Heard knowingly made false claims.
Heard, for her part, will argue that she has told the truth and that she is shielded, or “immune,” from liability because her 2018 op-ed on domestic violence dealt with a matter of public concern.
“I never named him. Rather, I wrote about the price women pay for speaking out against men in power. I continue to pay the price, but hopefully when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny,” Heard said in a statement released on Saturday.
The Washington Post is not a defendant in the trial. Depp’s lawyers have said they filed the case in Fairfax County, outside the District of Columbia, because the newspaper is printed at a facility there. Heard unsuccessfully tried to transfer the case to Los Angeles, where she and Depp lived.
The United States is a difficult forum for libel plaintiffs, especially public figures like Depp, who faces several hurdles in the Virginia case. Depp must prove by clear and convincing evidence that Heard knowingly made false claims.
Depp and Heard met while making “The Rum Diary” in 2011 and married four years later. Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse after filing for divorce in 2016. (Reuters)