The Continuing Saga of Depp v. Heard Defamation

Post trial on Depp vs. Heard, this is the case that doesn’t stop . The jury came down with a verdict on 6/1/22 finding on all counts, that Heard made defamatory statements against Depp. They also found one count against Johnny Depp due to his attorney making a statement that was then attributed to Depp under the theory of agency. Johnny Depp has offered to forego the judgement in lieu of Amber Heard filing an appeal. Amber Heard has doubled down by going on the talk show circuit to state again that Johnny Depp beat her, committed domestic abuse, and lied on the stand. Heard's attorney’s are perpetuating this story as well. Ms. Heard and her counsel seemed to have not learned many of the legal lessons that this trial had to offer.

First, you are free to speak out, but you are not free from the consequences of the speech. Heard complains that the verdict is a strike against free speech but it’s not. The jury found that she lied. Lies are not protected speech. There are consequences when you publish untrue statements even about famous people, politicians, and others. In those cases, actual malice must be found and the jury found that Heard maliciously defamed/lied about Depp to the tune of $15,000,000 in damages. They did not take away her free speech right, but they did show that her speech rights are not superior to the truth.

In Oklahoma Heard would have protections for her speech made in court and in court documents. Statements there would not be considered defamatory because speech in court is protected. However, you cannot lie in court documents or testimony as that is perjury. Perjury is defined as making a statement under oath that the witness does not believe is true, knows is not true, or intends to avoid or obstruct the determination of truth. Perjury can be punishable by jail time of up to 20 years. Perjury is rarely prosecuted because you must show an affirmative knowledge or intent to deceive or obstruct. Many things can be written off to faulty memories or the fact that people perceive things differently. For example, if Heard has a personality disorder, a psychologist may testify that she actually believes what she has said is true therefore it would not meet the definition of perjury.

Hours and hours of tapes were played for the jury. The tapes showed some pretty toxic behavior by both sides, but we did hear Heard admit to hitting Depp. We never heard Depp admit to hitting her. Additionally, Heard told some pretty extravagant stories of abuse. I do not know who is truly lying, embellishing, or misremembering through the clearly drug and alcohol-soaked haze of their relationship, but I think she lost a lot of creditability with everyone when she claimed she was raped with a possibly broken glass bottle, didn’t seek medical attention, went upstairs and took 2 sleeping pills and went to bed. Common sense just tells us that’s not likely what happened. The jury’s verdict suggests that they believed she was the aggressor in the situation, and she lied about what Johnny Depp did to her. Does that mean he never hit her? No not necessarily, they may have believed he hit her but that he was acting under duress or self-defense. What we can conclude is that they didn’t believe she was the victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault and they thought she was the aggressor.

Under Oklahoma law domestic abuse is defined as the assault and battery against a current or former spouse, a present spouse of a former spouse, a former spouse of a present spouse, parents, a foster parent, a child, a person related to you by blood or marriage, or someone with whom you are or were in a dating relationship (21 OS 644). Assault is any willful and unlawful attempt or offer with force or violence to do a corporal hurt to another (21 OS 641). Battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. So assault is the threatening of doing the act or swinging your hand back whereas battery is the actual hitting or touching. I don’t know what the definition is in Virginia, but if it's similar one would have to conclude that if they believe he hit her that he likely did so under duress which allows one to hit or threaten to hit due to believing they are under reasonable belief of imminent danger or great bodily harm (21 OS 156). People have a right to protect themselves if someone is harming them, but they can only use the reasonable force necessary to stop the attack.

Depp was found liable for a statement his lawyer made. This doesn’t mean that Depp asked him to make the statements, that he sanctioned them, or told his lawyer the statements and the lawyer repeated them. However, a lawyer is an agent of their client and a lawyer’s speech may be attributed to the client or be considered an admission against interest. In Oklahoma, an agency relationship is one where the relationship is created from the conduct or agreement of the parties showing that one party is willing for the other party to act for him subject to his control and the other consents to act. Depp hired Waldman to represent him in his divorce from Heard. In doing so Waldman, an attorney, made public statements about Heard regarding activities that happened in their marriage, surrounding the ending of their marriage, and regarding ongoing court proceedings. These statements are thus attributed to Depp even though he didn’t say them and Waldman might not have intended to bind Depp.

The statement Depp was found liable for is the one where the lawyer accused Heard of a hoax and staging the scene. When I look at the statement as a whole I have to determine that the jury found part of the statement to be untrue and malicious based on their other findings. I suspect they didn’t like the “ambush, a hoax” statement because we do know from the testimony that there were a lot of fights between them and events did occur. Regardless, neither of them are going to benefit from continuing to try this case in the media and Heard is likely to find herself subject to another suit by repeating statements that a jury has already rejected.

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Rachel Bussett is an attorney with 19 years of experience. She is motivated and inspired to fight for kids and all Oklahomans. 

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