Depp hears verdict on ‘credibility’ not ‘free speech’, experts say

  • On Wednesday, a jury in Virginia found that Amber Heard and Johnny Depp were both responsible for defamation.
  • While Hurd denounced the judgment as a First Amendment rebuke, legal experts disagree.
  • “It’s not really a free speech issue, it’s really a credibility issue,” said a former prosecutor.

Amber Heard lamented Wednesday that she lost her right to “freely and publicly speak” after a Virginia jury found her responsible for defamation in ex-husband Johnny Depp’s case against her.

But legal experts told Insider that the six-week, sensational trial was never really about free speech, and argued the verdict was unlikely to have future implications for First Amendment law.

“It’s not really a free speech issue, it’s really a credibility issue,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of the West Coast Trial Lawyers Association. “The jurors found she lied and she knew she was lying.”

At the center of the case was Hurd’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she said she was a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. The article did not name Depp, but he accused his ex-wife of ruining his reputation and career. Heard then countersued Depp, claiming he assaulted her before and during their marriage, which ended in divorce in 2016. Depp has denied the claims.

After six weeks of damning testimony, a jury on Wednesday found Heard for defaming Depp, awarding him $15 million in damages. They also found Depp responsible for defaming Heard and awarded her $2 million in damages after one of his lawyers called her sexual abuse allegations a “hoax.”

While the First Amendment enshrines Americans’ right to free speech, the doctrine does not prevent defamatory speech—false statements that are deemed fact and cause subsequent harm.

“This has nothing to do with the First Amendment,” Mitra Ahouraian, an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills, told Insider.

“You can’t lie and say things that hurt others. It’s not protected speech,” she added.

While Hurd’s legal team urged the jury to consider First Amendment implications as it relates to Hurd’s right to publish her story in The Washington Post, Depp’s case more effectively hinges on He accused her of telling stories full of damaging lies against him.

Depp’s legal team worked to poke holes in Hurd’s story during cross-examination, highlighting the inconsistency of her testimony and questioning her reliability in what proved to be a successful trial strategy.

For example, according to Ahouraian, Heard claimed she played no role in the abuse, but a recording played in court where Heard said she “hit” Depp contradicted his claims. Hurd testified that she acted in self-defense.

Hurd also said she donated $7 million from the divorce settlement to charity in 2018, but testimony at the trial showed she didn’t actually donate the money. She said she hasn’t donated it because Depp is suing her for $50 million, but she still plans to do so.

Several experts also told Insider that Heard’s graphic depiction of Depp’s violence against her did not match the photos of her injuries shown in court.

Roy Gutman, director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Freedom of Speech and a First Amendment expert, told Insider that the key factor was Heard and Depp’s testimony and its “credibility and credibility, and ultimately likability. ‘, adding that “jurors rate Johnny Depp better than Amber”, he heard. “

Legal experts told Insider’s Ashley Coleman on Wednesday that Hurd lost a defamation case because she acted incredulously and lacked her ex-husband’s star power.

Celebrities face a heightened burden of proof when it comes to defamation lawsuits. Public figures must prove that defamatory remarks made against them were made with “genuine malice,” meaning the speaker knew the remarks were false, or recklessly disregarded the truth.

“If you lied to someone and the jury thinks you’re lying, then you shouldn’t be protected in that way and it won’t dilute your First Amendment voice,” said John W. Culhan said. Delaware Law School.

The jury found both Heard and Depp liable for defamation given their status as public figures, further underscoring the uniqueness of this particular case. The trove of conflicting evidence and the social media circus surrounding the trial made the case an “outlier” compared with other defamation trials, experts said.

“This case is going too far in so many ways, and I wonder how much impact it will have,” Culhane said.

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