From Reuters: U.S. jury awards Depp $15 million, Heard $2 million in defamation fight


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46 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Amber Heard has released a statement:


  2. CJColucci says:

    Of the $15 million awarded to Depp, $5 million was for punitive damages, which are capped by Virginia law at $350,000. (The jury isn’t told that; the judge lets the jury award what it wants and then brings it under the cap.) So it nets out to roughly $8 million for Depp.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci says:

      Is this appealable?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        Anything is appealable. Whether an appeal is granted is another story. Defamation law in the United States requires appeals courts to do an independent review of the evidence.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          So the appeal will depend on where it ends up? This court vs. that one? A judge who says “the jury didn’t spend enough time with Exhibit B dash 3”?Report

          • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird says:

            Any appeal will go to the Virginia Court of Appeals, a single court of 17 judges based in Richmond. Although based in Richmond, the court sits in panels of at least three in various parts of the state. I would guess, though I don’t know, that the city of Fairfax would be the location of the panel that would hear the appeal. (Though Alexandria is close by.) Whoever is unhappy with the Court of Appeals’ decision can seek review in the Virginia Supreme Court. I believe, though I don’t know, that the Virginia Supreme Court, like many state courts of last resort (and the U.S. Supreme Court), would have discretion to hear the case or not.
            While whichever court ultimately decides this case will have to review the record and satisfy itself that the jury’s verdict (or whatever survives of it after inevitable post-trial motions) was correct, in practice it is rare that the court will go over things with that fine-toothed a comb, and — Virginia practitioners can tell me if I have this wrong — they will probably defer to any factual findings the jury made that have some support and are not obviously unreasonable. That means, practically, the appeals court(s) won’t second-guess the jury’s determination about whether Depp or Heard was lying on points X, Y, or Z unless it was crazy and no reasonable jury could decide that.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci says:

              So appealable in theory but, from what we know of the case, it’s unlikely to get traction in practice.

              Yes. This will be seen as a proxy for a lot of other fights.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird says:

                From what “we” know, we can’t predict anything. I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the trial evidence was to hazard a prediction. What I do know is that if it comes down to a straight he-said, she-said, whom do you believe question, an appeals court is in a worse position than a trial jury to make that call. There will have to be more to it than that, and there may well be. But I don’t know and neither do “we.”Report

  3. InMD says:

    Is it wrong that I have found all of this to be the least compelling thing ever and struggle to understand how anyone can attach any meaning to the frivolous and dysfunctional lives of mega celebrities?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to InMD says:

      It’s Gamergate 2022! This is a vindication not only of Johnny Depp, but Harvey Weinstein! It’s evidence that Trumpism has not only taken over our court system but our jury system as well! MAYBE HITLER WOULD HAVE FOUND IT BORING TOOReport

    • j r in reply to InMD says:

      Media needs clicks. Today, one of the easiest ways to do that is to attach some social significance to a story, no matter how tenuous the connection.

      Also, on the whole, Americans are dangerously obsessed with celebrity. We’ve created a pantheon of media figures who individually and collectively embody our hopes, dreams and fears. And we’ve used it to sell makeup, fast fashion and get rich quick courses.Report

    • veronica d in reply to InMD says:

      This case teaches us very little, except that Hollywood is filled to the gills with dysfunctional narcissists. But we knew that already.Report

      • dhex in reply to veronica d says:

        and that the general public (and most journalists, for that matter) has no idea what “actual malice” means in a defamation context involving public figures. (tbf, we probably knew that too.)

        in a different timeline it perhaps could have been a useful cultural lesson for how to talk about (and to) men who are living with abusive and/or violent partners – but depp ain’t that avatar by a long shot. which is too bad, as this could have been something positive dredged out of a lake of negativity.Report

        • InMD in reply to dhex says:

          I think looking for a greater meaning in this kind of litigation is a recipe for disappointment.Report

          • dhex in reply to InMD says:

            Well, in my view celebrities are largely vortexes of negative traits and self absorption – much like politicians, but with fewer sociopaths than government – so if regular humans can use their circus clown existence to create more good in this world, even if by accident, that’s the best we can hope for.

            So not meaning, but rather utility.

            Unrelated but what the hell was the aclu thinking? Due dilligence ain’t just a river in Egypt.Report

            • InMD in reply to dhex says:

              Sure, and certainly true enough. The best thing we can do as people I think is humbly learning from the foolishness of others without having to suffer ourselves. A but for the grace of God there go I kind of thing.

              Still, and while this is probably just my reptile lawyer brain, I always feel compelled to urge caution. At a fundamental level there just aren’t that many defendants with an opportunity to write an OpEd that may or may not be about personal marital experiences in a national newspaper. Similarly there aren’t that many plaintiffs with a plausible theory of damages arising from losing a starring role in a major movie franchise. So caution. Always caution.

              As for the ACLU? Who even knows any more.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to InMD says:

                I just assume this is a by-product of celebrity divorce? That is, an extra-dose of acrimony amplified by the media into slander/libel where ordinary folks would have just had to deal with rumors, bad blood and lost friends.Report

  4. DavidTC says:

    I find myself baffled by this outcome.

    Amber Heard just won a defamation claim against this statement: Quite simply this was an ambush, a hoax. They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops, but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.

    That was one of the several public statements she alleged was untrue and defamatory towards her, and the court agreed with that specific allegation. That is one of claims she just won money for.

    So, legally, that’s not the thing that happened. (It can’t have happened, it wouldn’t be defamatory) And some of that statement is not really debatable…the cops did come, and didn’t see any damage, and left. The only possibly untrue part is the idea that Amber and her friends ‘roughed up the place and got their stories straight’.

    So, the jury is on-board with Heard’s recounting of the alleged May 2016 fight between Depp and Heard?

    That’s the fight where she claims he threw a phone at her and then trashed their penthouse after she called the police on him. And the jury seems to agree that that happened, as far as I can tell?

    So…how exactly was Heard’s claims of his abusive behavior defamatory, again?

    We keep having this happen, where the evidence is that Depp has, bluntly, behaved psychotically and violently on multiple occassions, and basically every witness to his behavior seems to agree with that, hell, even the _court_ seems to agree with it…and somehow Heard is being defamatory to say this outloud.Report

    • CJColucci in reply to DavidTC says:

      I haven’t paid the case the attention it would require to have an opinion, but those are excellent questions. There may be answers to them, but someone would have to get far deeper into the weeds than anyone with a life would want to.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to CJColucci says:

        And this isn’t even the first time court that said ‘Some of Amber Heard’s allegations did happen’, the UK court said that 13 out of 14 of them had happened. The disputing of some of the events, frankly, are rather absurd. They’re pretty well-proven and documented.

        This is why Depp’s fan have moved from ‘She was lying from the very start as part of a conspiracy to steal his money’ onto ‘Well, they’re both abusive’.

        Which is what I feel this decision was _trying_ to say, but, the problem is: That is literally not what was under dispute. What was under dispute was whether she is allowed to describe his behavior as abusive…or, actually, not even that. If she’s allowed to even says she’s been in an abusive relationship and have people figure out she means Depp.

        Note the grounds for her being abusive are incredibly thin and often nonsense, but even if she _was_, that is not how defamation works. The question is if she is telling the truth about the specific events she is talking about. If Depp wants to get some excuses out there about ‘She was just as abusive to me’, he’s free to do so, but it doesn’t make her statements _untrue_.Report

        • InMD in reply to DavidTC says:

          I’m sure I’m going to regret engaging on this but there’s no trying to say or anything like that. It’s just a matter of whether the plaintiff met the burden of proof for the torts alleged (and I guess also the defendant for whatever counter-claims). That’s it. There is no bigger picture.Report

          • DavidTC in reply to InMD says:

            My point is that parts of both the claim _and_ the counterclaim were met in ways that seem mutually exclusive.

            It asserted ‘Depp’s lawyer claiming Heard faked a violent incident where Depp threw his phone at her and trashed the place’ was defamation, and it _also_ asserted it was defamation for Heard to hint at allegations of abuse by Depp!

            And it’s like…uh, the thing the court _just agreed happened_ (or at least agreed wasn’t faked to the point of Heard winning a libel suit about such a claim) certainly sounds like abusive behavior to me!

            If Depp did the thing that Heard said, he was abusive. And the court just said she didn’t _fake_ that thing, she wasn’t lying, and someone who says she was lying about that defamed her…which means…he actually did it?

            Is there some third option I’m not seeing? Some alternate universe Depp showed up and did all that and Heard was merely mistaken, but not lying?

            Or, as Murila suggested, does a jury believe that someone throwing a phone at someone, getting the police called on them, then trashing the place violently after the police leave to the point the person has to call the police again…isn’t ‘abuse’?Report

            • InMD in reply to DavidTC says:

              One thing to keep in mind is that in the US system, in a jury trial, the jury is the ‘finder of fact’ not the judge. This means that they are the ones that determine what did and did not happen based on the evidence.

              I have not followed this case or delved into it nor do I have any inclination to. However my understanding from the legal takes I have read is that Depp’s attorneys were very successful at producing lots of witnesses that contradicted Heard’s accounts of events. The net result seems to have been to damage her credibility to the jury, which again, was up to them to determine. Juries make determinations about who they do and do not believe in courtrooms every day. The take away though is that, just because something is presented at trial, doesn’t mean jurors are necessarily required to accept it. Sometimes they also find in ways that can seem difficult to square to anyone not in that room with them but such is the system.

              Anyway my point was less about the particulars of this case and more about the dangers of attaching too much to high profile celebrity litigation. They tend to involve pretty unique facts and circumstances (read: money) that render them poor as metrics for how things usually work.Report

    • Murali in reply to DavidTC says:

      I was thinking that the the false claim is whether it was a pre-planned hoax rather than an opportunistic attempt to call the cops on Depp.

      Or, they might believe that Depp thrashed the place but did not throw the phone at her and further believe that merely thrashing the place does not count as abuse.

      There are multiple ways in which that statement could be false. Not all those ways may necessarily involve Depp abusing Heard. Hence, it is possible for the lawyer’s statement to be defamatory as well as Heard’s articleReport

      • DavidTC in reply to Murali says:

        I was thinking that the the false claim is whether it was a pre-planned hoax rather than an opportunistic attempt to call the cops on Depp.

        No, that doesn’t really work, because asserting motives of someone is an opinion. It can’t be defamation for him to assert he has figured out _why_ she called the police, he’s clearly stating a _conclusion_ about her motives, not a fact. A defamation claim has to be about objective facts, not what people assert was happening in the heads of other people.

        So the first two sentences aren’t really eligible, and the third sentence is not under dispute. (Well, just how ‘thorough’ the search was is disputed, but that’s not defamatory towards Heard.)

        So…that leaves the last sentence.

        There are three claims in that sentence, and the last is ‘she placed a call to 911’, which, again, no one disputes.

        So maybe the idea is that ‘Heard and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up’, but _didn’t_ ‘got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist’.

        This is incredibly stupid, but I think we’re pretty much forced to that conclusion at this point.

        Or, they might believe that Depp thrashed the place but did not throw the phone at her and further believe that merely thrashing the place does not count as abuse.

        It is entirely possible that the jury thinks ‘angrily trashing somewhere you live to the point that someone calls the police on you’ isn’t ‘abuse’.

        They are wrong, and idiots, but it is entirely possible.Report

  5. Rufus F. says:

    I’d been successfully avoiding looking directly at this case for the same reasons as others here have mentioned, but I got invited to a taping of the Fox News Gutfeld! show and an excellent steak dinner last night, so I am now better informed. It’s about poop, right?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

      It is weird how right wing media has jumped on this bandwagon though. I got the feeling at the Gutfeld taping that part of it was them thinking it would be nice to take people to court for defaming you- in specific, one guest suggested that it might have helped Trump. But, ya know, it’s not like they have any great reason to like Johnny Depp, who’s nobody’s idea of a conservative.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

        With apologies to Germaine Greer, all men hate some women some of the time, abd conservatives hate all women all of the time.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Conservatives have long been critical of the boundless credulity with which allegations of abuse, sexual assault, and hate crimes are greeted by the media, despite the frequency with which high-profile examples of such have turned out to be hoaxes.

        This is probably more about Kavanaugh and Trump than about Depp personally, and about calling attention to blue-checks getting another one wrong.

        I mean, I guess. I haven’t really been paying attention to conservative media.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Yeah, from what I can tell, it comes straight from the Alinsky playbook.

          When they appeal to a moral principle, just find a bullet and ask them to bite it.

          They then have a choice between biting the bullet or going on a long-winded explanation of how complicated the real world is.

          And both are pretty funny.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          I had an aside in here about how the sides are reversed when a Democratic politician is the one being accused, in which case many Democrats urge caution while Republicans are all about believing accusers, but deleted it in an edit and forgot to put it back in.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            I mean, that’s all part of it, I’m sure. But, I think we’re going to find a surprising number of celebrities, regardless of their politics, who are very supportive of celebrities taking people to court for calling them out for their shitty behavior.Report

          • Slade the Leveller in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Al Franken resigned over a photograph in which he wasn’t even touching the woman.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to Jaybird says:

                My point was more to counter Brandon’s assertion. I’d say that the left is quick to throw those accused of sexual harassment to the wolves.Report

              • Eh, I remember the Al Franken thing differently.

                There was a lot of “oh, come on… he was on a USO tour and I’m not defending him sexually harassing a sex worker. But. It was a tasteless photo that should embarrass him but not cost him his job! Give him a pass. It was just once!”

                It was people coming out of the woodwork saying “me too” that resulted in being thrown to the wolves.

                (And there’s this weird dynamic after-the-fact where his resignation due to such things as nine women coming forward eventually turns into “he resigned because of a tasteless photograph”.)Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Its unusual that prominent and powerful people are forced to resign or get punished based on a single allegation and I’m comfortable about that, regardless of who the person is.

                I was in a forgiving mood at the first Franken allegation since it seemed like it had mitigating circumstances and I would stand by that today.
                But after there were a series of them, I was ready to cut him loose and I would also stand by that today.

                Having said that, its pretty rare that there is only a single allegation. The typical pattern is one, then another, then a cascade.Report

              • InMD in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

                It can be. Biden very easily survived Tara Reade though which makes me think somewhat different, unstated lessons have been learned. In retrospect the Franken thing looks more and more like a kind of bizarre, self-indulgent own goal that we are unlikely to see again.

                However I agree with you that it’s more complicated than the mirror image thing Brandon suggested. More like the Democrats have weird, and at times embarrassingly inconsistent principles on the subject whereas the Republicans just don’t have any at all. How can they with the Donald still very much in the room?Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to InMD says:

                Thank you for stating my point much more eloquently.Report

  6. DavidTC says:

    Oh, incidentally, now Depp’s on to dealing with the lawsuit against him for allegedly assaulting a crewman on the set of Biggie Smalls in 2018.Report