For three weeks, Virginia jurors have heard Johnny Depp and a parade of his witnesses depict the actor as a perfect gentleman who served as something akin to a human punching bag for his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
But on Tuesday, Depp’s legal team ended their defamation case in Fairfax County Court, where the actor is suing Heard for $50 million, by returning to the crux of his lawsuit: Heard allegedly “devastated” his career with a 2018 Washington Post article identifying herself as a domestic violence survivor. (She had sought a restraining order against Depp two years earlier.)
According to a forensic accountant who testified Tuesday, that “devastation” reached an eye-popping sum.
“I concluded that Mr. Depp suffered lost earnings of approximately $40 million,” Michael Spindler told jurors as the last witness to testify on Depp’s behalf.
Echoing a previous witness, Spindler said that among Depp’s financial setbacks was his removal from the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean installment, which allegedly cost the actor $22.5 million alone. The witness added that in 2017, Depp made an estimated $17.5 million, which was described to him as a “typical” year for the actor. At that rate, along with the loss of the major Disney deal, Spindler said his calculation—which included accounting records, depositions, and other data—concluded the actor would have earned about $40 million more by now were it not for his image tanking.
In cross examination, however, Heard’s lawyers insisted that Depp’s monetary loss was not his ex-wife’s fault but his own, thanks in part to a “worsening performance at the box office” for his films prior to the op-ed.
The forensic accountant’s testimony is crucial given that jurors are ultimately tasked with determining whether Heard defamed Depp and damaged his career.
Heard’s team has claimed the op-ed primarily served as a forum for the actress to urge victims to speak out about a problem that affects millions of people. Terence Doughtery, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), testified to jurors via video deposition last week about how the nonprofit worked with Heard to write and publish the column that “did not refer directly to Ms. Heard’s relationship with Johnny Depp.” He went on to note that Heard’s lawyers specifically “removed references to her marriage and divorce.”
On Thursday, Heard’s lawyers pressed their counterattack, grilling Spindler about how Depp’s monetary struggles may have been impacted by other factors. Among possible sources of damage to Depp’s reputation and thus his finances, attorney Benjamin Rottenborn suggested, was a 2018 article from The Sun that called Depp a “wife beater.”
Depp ultimately sued the British tabloid over the alleged mischaracterization, but lost in November 2020, when a London judge found that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Depp had assaulted Heard repeatedly throughout their marriage.
“I’m not acknowledging any of this being accurate, I’m just saying that wasn’t part of my calculation,” Spindler said about the tabloid piece, noting that he also did not account for the impact of Heard filing for a temporary restraining order in 2016.
Depp’s team rested their case after Spindler’s testimony, meaning Heard’s lawyers will now have the floor to tell their side of the story.
Before jurors took their Tuesday lunch break, however, Heard’s team filed a motion to dismiss the suit—a fairly routine step in a civil case—arguing that Depp’s team did not present enough evidence to justify their case and the actress should be awarded a summary judgment.
The motion prompted a fiery response from Depp’s lawyer Benjamin Chew, who argued the actor was well within his rights to pursue a defamation suit and that many witnesses and audio recordings showed that Heard was the real abuser in the relationship.
“No one was interested in what she had to say unless she was defaming Johnny Depp,” Chew said, referring to Heard’s op-ed, before arguing that Depp’s “harrowing” testimony proved his case. ‘We have Ms. Heard’s own admission to hitting Mr. Depp.”
“Let’s hear from Amber Heard,” Chew added.
Judge Penney Azcarate ultimately sided with Depp’s team—that is, allowed the trial to continue—striking all of Heard’s motions except one, which she kept under advisement.
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