On Tuesday, jurors in Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation trial against Amber Heard discussed for the first full day, asking the judge how they should assess the title in Heard’s Washington Post op ed.
“I stood up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s fury,” read the title on the web version of the December 2018 post. “This needs to change.”
The jurors were debating whether they should evaluate whether the headline was defamatory, or if they should analyse “the content of the remark, everything in the op ed,” according to Judge Penney Azcarate.
“I believe the uncertainty arose in this case since the remark in question is the title of the op ed, so I believe they are unsure if it is the entire op ed or just the title,” she explained. “It is obvious that the title is the assertion.”
The headline is one of three statements on the jury verdict papers that the jury must consider while deciding whether to decide in Depp’s favour. The seven jurors will also have to assess if the op ed’s content contains defamatory statements. “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full power of our culture’s hatred for women who speak out,” says one of the comments. “I had the vantage point of observing, in real time, how institutions defend guys accused of abuse,” says the other statement.
Although Depp is not mentioned in the op ed or the headline, Heard’s legal team argues that readers would understand who his ex-wife was referring to in the piece.
While the body of Heard’s post only mentioned domestic abuse without specifying whether it was physical or emotional, the headline went one step further by alleging sexual violence.
Heard alleged throughout the trial that Depp sexually attacked her after an argument in March 2016, but Depp’s defence team spent a lot of time trying to disprove that accusation.
While Depp’s legal team has pointed out that she did not compose the op ed’s headline — an editor at the Post did – the actor’s side has focused on the fact that she tweeted the story without challenging the title.
Heard has also filed a countersuit for $100 million, and the jury is currently considering on her claims that she was defamed in three separate incidents, including comments made by Depp’s attorney.