Over the last few days I have
wasted spent some time watching the cross-examination of Johnny Depp in his libel suit against ex-wife Amber Heard. I come to the case without preconceptions, having never seen a movie in which either appeared, and not, to my recollection, having heard of Ms. Heard prior to the lawsuit. Here are some observations, based on what I have seen so far.
* The trial is being conducted in a remarkably old-fashioned manner. They are laying foundation for exhibits and redacting documents in front of the jury. Nowadays, exhibits are normally ruled on before trial begins and jury time is not wasted on foundation. The way they are doing it not only wastes time, it leads to a slow pace in which it is hard for the examiner to gain any momentum.
* This is aggravated by the fact that the lawyer cross-examining Depp has not exactly sparkled. “Did I read that correctly?” is not the most effective mode of cross-examination.
* The impression one gets of both Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard is appalling. Depp is apparently a hopeless drunk and drug addict, and Ms. Heard seems only marginally better, although I might modify that view when she testifies. It is hard to imagine bringing a defamation case when the question of who defecated in the bed inevitably becomes an issue. These people are way below average in every way.
* The trial gallery consists almost entirely of rather young women. I take it that they are Depp fans. As best I can gather, he seems to be the popular favorite in the trial.
* Ms. Heard might actually be a good actress. In any event, she makes a positive impression in court. To begin with, she is very pretty. She dresses primly and looks pained, often on the verge of crying, as she watches Depp testify. Of course, those feelings could well be genuine, too.
* The case arises out of an op-ed that Heard wrote (or signed, anyway, reportedly it was written by someone from the ACLU). In the op-ed, Heard described herself as a victim of domestic abuse without naming Depp. So the case seems to turn on whether Depp ever hit Heard. It appears to be conceded that on occasion, she hit him. Based on the evidence so far, I don’t blame her.
* The key evidence includes several audio and video recordings of the two engaged in arguments–a sign of the times, I guess. One video is rather horrifying: it shows Depp, high on drugs and likely drunk, rampaging around a kitchen, smashing cabinets, screaming at Heard, and so on. He is in what one could describe as a violent rage, something that apparently was not unusual.
* These recordings strike me as ambiguous in an interesting way. On one hand, they make it easy to imagine the out-of-control Depp slugging his wife. On the other hand, in the recordings he never actually hits her. They might incline the jury to conclude that even at his worst, while he may be a terrible human being, Depp was not a wife-beater.
* Depp is missing the tip of one middle finger. He claims that Heard cut it off by throwing a vodka bottle at him, a seemingly implausible scenario. I believe her story is that he cut it off with a knife. In any event, after losing his finger tip Depp went around the place where they were staying in Australia, writing messages with his finger in blood and later in paint. A charming anecdote.
* In this case, Depp alleges that Heard’s op-ed destroyed his career along with his reputation. This could be true. As the trial proceeds there will be more testimony on this point. An obvious question is whether Depp, by the end of 2018 when the op-ed was published, was in any condition to be employable as an actor.
* Depp has already lost a defamation case in the U.K., where he sued the Sun for calling him a wife-beater. In that case, a court trial, the judge found the Sun’s characterization to be true. Pursuing a second case in which he makes the same allegations seems almost to manifest a death wish.
* But then, who knows, he might win. Based on what I have seen so far, my guess is that the jury will send the parties away in the same condition they found them. It is hard to imagine awarding damages to someone as degenerate as Depp, as manifested most of all in his text messages about his then-wife, which can’t be printed on a family web site. Depp and Heard had an appallingly awful, self-destructive marriage, and happily they ended it some years ago. That seems like a reasonable place to let the story rest.
Depp vs. Heard has somewhat the appeal of watching a slow-motion car accident, and I probably will tune in periodically. If I have any further impressions I will post them here.