We won’t repeat the details of the long road that brought us to Fairfax County, Virginia. If you’re reading this you already know about Amber Heard’s op-ed on domestic abuse published by the Washington Post that Johnny Depp claims defamed him. Instead, we’ll give a brief rundown on today’s activities – both in and out of the courtroom.
Eleven jurors have been selected for the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial, including four alternates. Court TV’s Chanley Painter reported during the selection process that attorneys for the former Pirates of the Caribbean star wanted to focus on whether any potential jurors had any legal experience or if any had been a victim of domestic violence. Heard’s attorneys went into even more detail, asking if they’d been a victim themselves and if they knew people who had. Those who admitted such then had a private conversation with the judge on the extent of their experience. Heard’s attorney’s also asked potential jurors if they’re comfortable with bisexuality and if they’ve ever known people with anger issues so severe they wrecked property.
Media outlets featured legal experts commenting on the case throughout the day, with most agreeing that Mr. Depp faces long odds to win. In cases like these, the burden of proof lands on the plaintiff (Johnny Depp) to prove the defendant (Amber Heard) made a false allegation AND that the defendant knew it was false AND had made it with malicious intent. Not only is that a much more challenging prospect than it was in the 2020 UK case, but the U.S. also has first amendment rights that are unparalleled in the U.K.
Also discussed in depth was why this trial is in Virginia instead of California, where the bulk of Heard’s accusations occurred. Though Depp’s attorneys point to the fact online editions of The Washington Post are published through servers located in Fairfax County as the reason behind Fairfax being their pick for the trial, most realize the true motivation was the state’s weak anti-SLAPP laws at the time the lawsuit was filed. SLAPP stands for ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation.’ Virginia is known for its ‘SLAPP tourism’ in legal circles. If someone says something that you don’t like, you come to a state with weak SLAPP laws and sue them for libel. This invites the powerful and wealthy to travel across the country to Virginia to silence their critics. The litigant’s aim isn’t to win the lawsuit but to punish the defendant by making them pay expensive legal fees for years and stifle free speech.
After Depp’s suit was filed, Virginia’s state legislature strengthened those laws, allowing Ms. Heard to use the anti-SLAPP provision in her defense.
As in the UK, Depp’s fans outside the courthouse outnumbered those of Amber Heard. In one interview, a woman who traveled over an hour in hopes of seeing Depp admits, “I don’t want to believe it (about Depp) because it would hurt one of my childhood heroes.”
“They know him as a star, a fixture in the Hollywood firmament, and that is the Depp they want to keep. Any threat to that status is automatically discredited.” ~ Writer Miles Klee