Photo: Backgrid

Since March, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have waged a bitter war in both the court and the press over a defamation lawsuit brought about by the actor against Heard, his ex-wife. The complaint stems from a December 2018 op-ed published in the Washington Post, in which Heard discusses the aftermath of coming forward about sexual assault and domestic violence. Despite never mentioning the perpetrator by name, the op-ed seemed to imply it was Depp, and his lawsuit resurfaced her 2016 restraining order against Depp, and statements by her lawyers that year claiming that Depp had abused her mentally and physically.

Since Depp filed the lawsuit in March it has been stalled, with each side making small concessions and public statements. A recent ruling, however, moves the needle in Heard’s favor.

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On Friday, Virginia Judge Bruce White granted Heard’s motion to compel discovery pertaining to her ex-husband’s substance abuse and possible history of domestic violence. Depp and his lawyer Robert Gilmore—who made his career representing banking institutions and petrochemical companies—previously attempted to block Heard’s access to these records. It a move that, coincidentally, echoed Ryan Philippe’s strategy in a recently settled lawsuit.

It’s worth noting that Depp’s lawsuit is predicated on a statement Heard provided to the LAPD in 2016, where she claimed Depp’s abusive behavior was tied to his history of substance abuse. Because of this, Heard’s legal team, which now counts Roberta Kaplan—co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund—among its ranks, argued such history is relevant. “He put that at issue. He opened the door to it,” lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn argued in court, accusing Depp of “trying to deny Ms. Heard the evidence that she needs” to defend herself.

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Depp’s lawyer then claimed that Heard was trying to “taint the jury” and harass the actor. In response, Judge Bruce White questioned why Depp would include his ex-wife’s past statements—as well as the assertion that he has never abused Heard—in the lawsuit if they weren’t relevant to the case. In response, his lawyer argued:

There are many reasons why things are said in complaints. Truthful statements are made. But whether that is a relevant issue for the case to allow open-ended discovery on, is a wholly different matter, Your Honor. Mr. Depp understood that this case, since the public op-ed, is going to be in the public press. And so it’s important for him to say that. But what’s at issue is whether he abused Ms. Heard as she falsely claims.

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This begins an interesting interaction between Depp’s lawyer and Judge White. I’ve included their back-and-forth below:

THE COURT: Say that again. That Mr. Depp put that in his complaint because he knew that this would be in the press and it was important for him to put it in the press?

MR. GILMORE: Mr. Depp —

THE COURT: That’s the motivation for that being in the complaint? That’s what you’re saying on the record?

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Mr. Gilmore, Depp’s lawyer, goes on to claim that Heard’s request for discovery is “bogus” because Depp is a public figure facing a public accusation. The judge later says this admission is “troubling,” and rules against Depp, asserting that Depp’s original complaint is “broad enough to place these things in issue.”

In a statement provided to Jezebel, Heard’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan suggests that Depp’s legal strategy is backfiring:

“It is Mr. Depp who started this lawsuit on the theory that Ms. Heard somehow made up all the abuse that forced her to obtain a restraining order against Mr. Depp back in 2016. Now that the facts in his own lawsuit are making him uncomfortable, Mr. Depp wants to hide evidence commonly understood to be connected to incidents of domestic violence: his decades-long abuse of drugs and alcohol, his past history of violence, and medical records showing among other things the laundry list of prescription medications he takes daily and injuries from his drug-induced rages. But that is not how litigation works. Mr. Depp started this fight. Ms. Heard intends to finish it by proving, if necessary, the truth of what really happened.”

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When asked for comment, Depp’s other counsel Adam Waldman responded:

“Amber Heard no longer feigns any effort to prove her abuse hoax. The mountain of evidence is simply too high, and she and her co-conspirators keep running from their depositions. Instead, she and her #TimesUp legal team have moved on to a vague PR smear campaign against Mr. Depp, for which there will be addiitonal consequences. For the avoidance of doubt, the only person in this case who beat a woman is Amber Heard, and she was arrested and incarcerated for it.”