It may be a defamation trial, but the Johnny Depp case against ex-wife Amber Heard looks more like their divorce. Graphic, revealing texts and scatological testimony are exactly the kinds of evidence you’d expect to see in a bitterly contested child custody case.
Heard on Court T.V.
Believe it or not, the couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Depp paying his ex-wife $7m. Depp kept his real estate assets, including properties in Los Angeles, Paris and a private island in the Bahamas and 40 vehicles.
Then Depp, 58, sued Ms. Heard, 35, for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
After more than a year of legal sparring, Ms. Heard then countersued Mr. Depp, alleging that he defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.
Many of Depp’s text messages are as colorful as Captain Jack Sparrow himself. In a message to a friend, Depp wrote that he hoped that Heard’s “rotting corpse is decomposing in the f***ing trunk of a Honda Civic.”
In 2015, texts sent to someone else—possibly Heard’s sister—Depp claimed that:
“I never ever want to lay eyes on that filthy whore Amber” and that he would “smack the ugly c**t around before I let her in.”
Depp denied in testimony that he had ever hit any woman. He also alleged that Heard had repeatedly attacked him, and had thrown a bottle at him, severing the tip of his middle finger.
Florida Texts and Divorce
I’ve written about the widespread use of texts, emails, social media and how they have increasingly become a party of family law cases.
While Depp has to authenticate his text messages to prove he wrote them, some exhibits are trustworthy, and don’t even require a witness to authenticate. The evidence code lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.
The list is short and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules. Other parts of the evidence code include even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”
Text messages have become a major source of evidence in modern divorce trials. People forget what they put in writing may be used against them later and are fair game in a divorce. The Depp case makes it easy to understand why.
“The worst pirate I ever heard of”
In his testimony, Depp denied he ever hit a woman. While he has alleged that Heard repeatedly attacked him, thrown a bottle at him and severed his middle finger, he testified that he would usually run away to a bedroom or a bathroom to get away from Heard when she was violent.
With very colorful text messages about his threats of violence, some are wondering why he filed a defamation case in the first place:
“Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!” Depp wrote to actor Paul Bettany in June 2013. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” “Yes I fucked up and went too far in our fight.” “It doesn’t say physical fight,” Depp said on the stand.
Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn also played a video that Heard had recorded, in which Depp could be seen yelling, banging things, and pouring himself a giant glass of wine.
“I did assault a couple of cabinets but I did not touch Ms. Heard.”
Depp has to prove that Heard’s comments in the Washington Post damaged his reputation. That central legal question about defamation seems like a trivial sideshow to what everyone is seeing unfold in a Virginia courtroom.
The Variety article is here.