Jury’s role in Depp-Heard trial doesn’t track public debate

FAIRFAX, Va. — A seven-person civil jury in Virginia will continue its deliberations Tuesday in Johnny Depp’s libel trial against Amber Heard. What the jury thinks will be very different from the public debate sweeping the high-profile proceedings.

For six weeks, testimony focused on details of the abuse Heard said she suffered at the hands of Depp. Hurd outlined more than a dozen specific instances where she said she was beaten by Depp.

Depp has denied any physical or sexual abuse and said Hurd fabricated the claims to damage Depp’s reputation. Many of Depp’s online fans are focused on their belief that Hurd is dishonest, and that will determine the outcome.

But the case itself is a defamation lawsuit. In December 2018, Depp sued Heard for defamation in Fairfax County Circuit Court for $50 million, writing in the Washington Post that she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse. “.

That article didn’t even mention Depp by name, but his lawyer said he was defamed anyway. Much of the article discusses public policy related to domestic violence, and Hurd’s attorney said she is entitled to an opinion under the First Amendment.

In the final argument, however, Depp’s attorney, Camille Vasquez, argued that Hurd’s right to free speech was limited.

“The First Amendment does not protect lies that harm and defame people,” she said.

Depp’s lawyers pointed to two places in the article where they said Depp was clearly mentioned.

In the first paragraph, Hurd wrote: “Two years ago, when I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, I felt the full force of our cultural anger.” Depp’s lawyers called it an explicit reference to Depp , because Hurd publicly accused Depp of domestic violence in 2016 — two years before she wrote this article.

In the second paragraph, she said, “I have the rare vantage point of seeing in real time how agencies are protecting men accused of abuse.” (Depp’s attorneys are also seeking damages for headlines that appear above the online version of the article. , although not written by Hurd.)

The jury must reach a unanimous verdict and must decide whether these passages in the Post are defamatory. The judgment provides them with step-by-step instructions on how to determine this.

Hurd’s lawyers say they have provided substantial evidence that Hurd was abused. But they say she should still prevail in the lawsuit even if the jury somehow believes she has never been abused once.

This is because defamation law stipulates several factors that must be considered. First, the so-called defamatory statement must be about the plaintiff. Hurd’s attorney said the article was not about Depp at all. He was not mentioned, and they said the point was Hurd’s experience with the consequences of speaking out. Her attorneys argued that the statements were objectively true even if she was not actually abused.

However, Depp’s lawyers say the two passages explicitly refer to Depp, given the publicity surrounding their 2016 divorce proceedings.

Furthermore, because Depp is a public figure, a jury can only convict Heard of defamation if the jury finds that Heard’s actions were of “genuine malice,” which requires clear and convincing evidence that she knew what she wrote The content is false, or she recklessly disregards the truth.

Hurd’s attorney, J. Benjamin Rottenborn, said in Friday’s closing statement that Hurd worked with her attorney to scrutinize a draft of the article — the first draft was not written by her, but by the ACLU — To make sure what she wrote passed legal scrutiny. That fact alone, Rottenborn said, was enough to prove that she acted with no real malice.

As for the abuse itself, Depp’s lawyers sought to suggest to the jury that if they believed Heard was lying or glorifying any of her abuse allegations, she could not be trusted and all her abuse allegations must be dismissed as implausible.

“You either believe it all or you don’t,” Vasquez said. “Either she was the victim of ugly, horrific abuse, or she was a woman who would say anything.”

In Hurd’s conclusion, Rottenborn says that nitpicking on evidence of Hurd’s abuse ignores the fact that the overwhelming evidence represents her and sends a dangerous message to victims of domestic violence.

“If you don’t take pictures, it doesn’t happen,” Rottenborn said. “If you do take pictures, they’re fake. If you don’t tell your friends, they’re lying. If you do tell your friends, they’re part of a scam.”

He rejected Vasquez’s suggestion that if the jury thought Heard might be glorifying a single act of abuse, they must ignore everything she said. He said that even if Heard suffered an incident of abuse, Depp’s defamation suit was bound to fail.

“They’re trying to trick you into thinking that Amber has to be perfect to win,” Rottenborn said.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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