FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — The trial of actress Amber Heard has been a long, arduous and unfailingly dramatic journey — and it has not yet begun.
Actor Johnny Depp sued Heard, his ex-wife, in 2019 for defamation after she wrote an op-ed describing herself as a domestic abuse survivor.
The proceedings begin Monday and could linger for the next two months in Fairfax County Circuit Court. Chief Circuit Judge Penney Azcarate will preside. It will be televised on the Court TV broadcast network, viewed by many from the comfort of their sofas and also watched by a limited number of determined spectators allowed in the courtroom. Witnesses could include actors Paul Bettany and James Franco, who are set to appear by video, among others.
Inevitably, it will all be discussed and dissected on social media. A study of contrasts, the trial will be an undeniably salacious dust-up involving serious issues of defamation, domestic violence and assault.
Depp and Heard met on the set of The Rum Diary (2011). They married four years later, February 2015, when Heard was 28 and Depp was 51. Their marriage lasted 15 months.
By spring of 2016, Heard appeared in a California courtroom, her face bruised, to obtain a restraining order against Depp. By August of that year, the two had come to an agreement. Heard voluntarily dismissed her petition for a domestic violence restraining order and left the marriage with a $7 million settlement. The two issued a joint statement, as reported in USA Today:
“Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has lied nor made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future. Amber will be donating financial proceeds from the divorce to a charity.”
But that wasn’t the end of it.
In April of 2018, British newspaper The Sun ran an article describing Depp as a wife-beater. He sued the paper for libel, a case he eventually lost.
Then, in December 2018, Heard published an op-ed in the Washington Post.
“Two years ago,” she wrote, “I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”
She never mentioned Depp, but she pinpointed a time: “two years ago.” That would be when she was married to Depp.
Four days after the piece ran, Disney announced it was dropping Depp from his signature role in “Pirates of Caribbean.” Three months later, Depp sued his ex-wife, demanding $50 million in damages. She later filed a counterclaim requesting $100 million.
Depp maintains that he never physically abused Heard.
He filed a declaration accusing Heard of being the perpetrator, not the victim. He said she punched him, threw a can of paint thinner at him and either defecated on his bed or had someone else do so.
The actor’s lawyers, led by Benjamin Chew of Brown Rudnick, argue that Heard lied as she pursued divorce, appearing in court with an “apparently battered” face. At one point, Depp’s legal team accused Heard of lying about donating $7 million in divorce money to charities.
Heard’s lawyers, led by Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, counter that the divorce money was pledged to charities. They contend Heard was abused by Depp, whose outbursts were fueled by substance abuse. When the couple was in Australia, for example, he “ingested multiple ecstasy pills, violently and repeatedly assaulted [Heard],” according to a brief filed by Heard’s team. He threw bottles, smashed a phone against the wall, and wrote bizarre messages on the wall in blood, sometimes mixed with paint.