FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Nearing the finish line in a marathon trial, attorneys Tuesday rested the defense of actress Amber Heard, who is fighting claims that she defamed her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, by describing herself as a domestic abuse survivor.
Depp’s lawyers immediately began calling rebuttal witnesses to take aim at testimony by witnesses for Heard.
Now in its sixth week, the case revolves around an op-ed published in 2018 by The Washington Post. The piece, written by an ACLU staffer working with Heard, noted that two years earlier the actress had become a public figure representing domestic abuse — a time period during which she was married to Depp. Within days, Depp lost the role for which he is most well-known, Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Heard, who starred as Mera in the blockbuster “Aquaman,” filed a counterclaim asking for $100 million in damages and contending that her career took a hit as the result of negative remarks by one of Depp's attorneys. She argues that executives considered hiring someone else to take her role in the sequel to Aquaman. Eventually, she was cast as Mera but with a reduced part.
But the size of Heard’s role in “Aquaman 2” has nothing to do with the defamation case, according to Walter Hamada, president of DC-based film production for Warner Brothers. "The movie was always pitched as a buddy comedy between Jason Momoa (the lead) and Patrick Wilson," he explained.
Executives weighed replacing Heard as they debated the dynamics between the actress and Momoa, said Hamada, who testified via video-recorded deposition. "Would we be better off with finding someone who had more natural chemistry with Jason Momoa?" he asked, recounting conversations about the matter.
Throughout the day, Depp's legal team called a succession of witnesses to rebut other aspects of testimony on Heard's behalf. Two witnesses rebutted the testimony of Kathryn Arnold, an entertainment industry analyst who said that Heard would have made $45 million to $50 million over a five-year period if not for negative publicity spawned by the lawsuit. During her testimony, Arnold compared the career paths of Heard to other actors in fantasy-type superhero flicks, including Momoa, who portrayed Aquaman, Gal Gadot of "Wonder Woman," Zendaya, who was in the "Spider Man" movies, and Chris Pine of "Star Trek."
But Richard Marks, an entertainment attorney, said Arnold's assessment was wildly speculative and Heard's career does not compare to those actors' careers. Another witness, forensic accountant Michael Spindler, characterized Arnold’s testimony as “not adequately supported and unreasonable.”
A third witness, tech analyst Doug Bania, took issue with the findings of the tech analyst hired by Heard's legal team, who described evidence that the actress's reputation suffered as the result of negative tweets.
And Richard John Shaw, a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University, took the witness stand to counter the testimony of David Spiegel, a Norfolk, Virginia-based psychiatrist. Spiegel had testified at length that Depp exhibited traits of various disorders. Spiegel also said that he attempted to examine Depp, but the actor refused.
Even so, Shaw said that Spiegel had insufficient information to give such opinions. He asserted that the testimony violated ethical principles outlined in the Goldwater Rule. This rule was named for Senator Barry Goldwater, a presidential candidate in 1964 who was the target of an article opining about his mental well-being — purportedly the opinions of psychiatrists.
Depp's attorneys also called a surprise witness, Morgan Higby Night, onetime manager of trailer park resort Hicksville, California. Night was on hand in 2013 when Depp, Heard and friends visited. Witnesses have said Depp became jealous and angry when he saw Heard sitting in a chair with a woman. But Night said that actually Heard was jealous and angry.
"Mr. Night, you are a pretty big fan of Johnny Depp, aren't you?" asked one of Heard's attorneys, Elaine Bredehoft.
"I am not," Night said, prompting laughter from spectators.
"You wanted to participate in this trial, didn't you?" Bredehoft pressed.
"They asked me," Night said. "And I said I'll be happy to come and tell the truth."
"You knew this was on camera," Bredehoft continued. She charged that Night responded to a Twitter user known as "the umbrella guy," who is "the lead person for Mr. Depp's Twitter [followers]."
Night said he had no idea that was the case.
Also Tuesday, Judge Penney Azcarate denied a motion by Depp's lawyers to strike Heard’s counterclaim.
Filed in 2020, the counterclaim focuses on Depp and one of his attorneys, Adam Waldman. Heard contends that Waldman made false statements about her, accusing her of making “hoax” charges of domestic abuse.
“It is not disputed that Mr. Waldman published statements, and there is a question as to whether the statements are false," Azcarate said, as she announced her decision to allow the counterclaim to move forward. “There is more than a scintilla of evidence that a reasonable juror may infer that Mr. Waldman made the counterclaim statements while realizing that they were false or with a reckless disregard for their truth.”
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