Johnny Depp will need to pull “a rabbit out of a hat” to win his US defamation case against his former wife Amber Heard, and the result of another legal loss could be career-ending, a media lawyer has said.
Alex Wade, legal partner at Wiggin LLP, said the trial in Virginia was the actor’s “last throw of the dice”, but that jury trials came with an “inherent unpredictability.”
Mr Depp is suing Ms Heard for libel over a 2018 article she wrote in The Washington Post, which his lawyers say falsely implies he physically and sexually abused the Aquaman star.
It comes after the actor lost a similar defamation case in the UK, which he brought against the publishers of The Sun, News Group Newspapers (NGN) for publishing an article that referred to him as a “wife-beater” in the headline.
Following a 16-day trial in July 2020, a judge found the content of the article to be “substantially true” and Mr Depp was later refused permission to appeal against the decision at the Court of Appeal.
“This is absolutely his last throw of the dice,” Mr Wade told the PA news agency, as the first week of the US trial concluded.
“If he loses this it’s impossible to see him making a comeback, I think, as an actor.
“Hollywood likes a bad boy, absolutely, but in the wake of hashtag MeToo, the way in which we view these things in today’s world is that you can’t just be a bit of a bad boy any more.
“This is abuse. This is active misogyny.
“I personally find it very difficult to see how a Hollywood studio would employ Depp again if he loses this case.”
Mr Wade said the actor “needs a rabbit out of a hat” but it was “possible” that his large legal team, several of whom have flanked him at court, had one to produce.
Mr Wade and his colleague Matthew Dando, also a partner at Wiggin LLP, said there were several differences in the US trial that may play more favourably with Mr Depp and his legal team.
As well as being held in front of a jury of 11 members of the public, proceedings are being broadcast live from the court, which is permitted in the US.
Mr Dando said that although televised hearings would not affect the outcome of the trial, it would have an effect on the media coverage and public opinion.
“It will inevitably mean that the advocates are not just playing to the people in the courtroom, but directly through television… they’re playing directly to the public,” he told PA.
“So it affects the dynamic of the trial.”
Mr Wade added: “I think Depp’s team have got to come up with some remarkable evidence.
“There’s got to be something that radically changes this, that could really persuade people that Heard was lying, or at least a liar on a given important occasion.
“Juries come with an inherent unpredictability, and that’s why if this were being heard again by purely a judge alone you’d probably expect it to go the same way as the UK case.
“But as Matt says, the various counsel in the US will play to the jury.”
During the trial in London Ms Heard was brought as a witness to testify on allegations of physical abuse against Mr Depp, though her US legal team say she also suffered “sexual violence at the hands of Depp”.
A specific incident was referenced by the actress’ lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, during her opening statement on Tuesday, which Mr Wade says was “calculated”.
“I don’t think that (Bredehoft) would have inadvertently mentioned that,” he said.
“She’s setting the scene very much for a new avenue of allegation against Depp… it’s a whole new kettle of fish.
“To me it’s very, very clever and well judged, she’s just dropped in a little time bomb… I’m sure that was quite calculated.”
Mr Dando added: “Not least because you know you need to win at the end, not the beginning.
“If you use your best cards and you get your quick impact, by the end of the trial it may have waned, and the impact may be less and therefore it’s less to your benefit.
“I think Alex is probably right that it was clever it was dropped there…There’s an intrigue about it.”
The trial, which is set to last a total of seven weeks, continues on Monday April 18 at the Fairfax County District Courthouse.