What Amber Heard Testifying Against Johnny Depp Means--For Her, For Him, For Their Divorce and For the Millions of People Watching Via E! News
» Posted June 16, 2016 News
By Natalie Finn
June 16, 2016
Amber Heard is planning to testify Friday in court, when a judge will hear arguments on whether or not to extend Heard's order of protection against Johnny Depp.
On May 27, several days after filing for divorce from Depp after 15 months of marriage, Heard obtained against her future ex-husband, alleging that he'd been abusive throughout their relationship.
And the story has been spiraling out of control ever since. Regardless of what did or did not happen behind closed doors, Heard's been the one who's gotten the brunt of the criticism on social media, with scores of Depp fans (or just Heard naysayers) lining up to accuse her of being a gold-digger, a liar and
worse. At the same time, however, media outlets have published photographs of Heard's face sporting injuries purported to be inflicted by Depp, and some of those closest to her—including her former longtime girlfriend, Tasya van Ree, and good friend iO Tillett Wright—have spoken out to lend their support.
In an essay for Refinery 29, Wright wrote about witnessing the toll that abuse was taking on Heard and calling 911 on her behalf "because she never would."
Meanwhile, Depp's exes and his 17-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, rallied to his defense; a friend of his published an essay accusing Heard of blackmail (Heard has since sued him for defamation); and his lawyer argued in her response to Heard's TRO filing that the actress was looking for a quick financial resolution. The Pirates of the Caribbean star's rep stated that Depp wouldn't be responding to any of the "salacious false stories" swirling about his personal life and was hoping the "dissolution of this short marriage will be resolved quickly."
All the while, Depp was in Europe playing with his band Hollywood Vampires and, according to People, he headed to his private island in the Bahamas last week to decompress.
"He wants to see his kids, but otherwise he isn't looking forward to returning [to L.A.]. He doesn't seem too worried about court though. He has an excellent lawyer who is taking care of things," a source told the magazine.
Speaking of which, Depp's camp unsuccessfully petitioned last Friday to have Heard sit for a deposition immediately, but sources have confirmed to E! News that she does plan on taking the stand this Friday in court, and that will include being questioned by Depp's attorney.
Heard withdrew her request for $50,000 a month in spousal support in an effort to reiterate that her allegations are not about money; and though her lawyer petitioned to compel Depp's appearance, he is not required to show up in person. His attorney then filed a motion Wednesday to exclude all non-party testimony at the hearing, meaning testimony from anyone other than Heard.
And this is just a brief summary that scratches the surface of the back-and-forth from sources, the countless headlines (both new and old ones dredged up to muddy the waters) and the focus on Johnny and Amber's every move that has been non-stop for the past four weeks.
But though the case has been tried and retried in the court of public opinion already, what actually happens now in the real, live legal court, where actual decisions are made?
"I don't think the publicity will impact how the judge will rule," says marital and family attorney Mitch Karpf, of Young Berman Karpf & Gonzalez based in Miami. "The bigger problem is how celebrities who are dealing with a very private, emotional issue" also have careers very much reliant on public opinion, and these factors merge together. In any case there would be reporters and mass public interest in the case, "yet when you're dealing with an issue such as domestic violence, if it actually occurred, it's got such an impact, psychologically, on people."
"That's one of the problems I see happening with this, it may not even matter what the judge does," lawyer Brian Karpf, who along with dad Mitch specializes in high net-worth and high-profile family law issues (neither is involved with Depp and Heard's divorce case), also tells E! News. If Depp refuses to speak up on his own behalf, "the public at large, they're not familiar with the legal system, and they're going to view that as guilt. On the plus side, if he doesn't testify and his legal team is able to disprove Amber Heard's claims, then the public thinks, 'Hey, she's just doing this to gain a monetary advantage.'"
As mentioned, Heard withdrew her immediate request for spousal support, and Brian Karpf agreed that was the right decision if she really wanted to bring attention back to the issue at hand.
As for Depp's petition to stop others besides Heard from testifying, Los Angeles-based attorney Troy Slaten tells E! News that the actor's lawyer is trying to ward off any surprises in court.
"There are not supposed to be any 'Perry Mason' moments in court. That means no surprises," Slaten says. "Both sides to a lawsuit are supposed to know, prior to a trial, the evidence that the other side wishes to introduce. This means that, at a minimum, you're supposed to know what witnesses will be called and what those witnesses will say...[Depp's attorney, Laura Wasser] is also saying that if the witnesses are not allowed to testify, the court should also not consider the declarations from those witnesses that were submitted to the court in her original request for a temporary restraining order."
Heard's petition included a supporting declaration from her friend and neighbor in the downtown Los Angeles penthouse where she and Depp lived together. Police were called to the building Monday, reportedly after some of Depp's bodyguards showed up and started moving clothing and some other items out of the house.
Slaten says, however, that "courts are allowed to accept hearsay evidence [i.e. the friend's declaration] but are supposed to give it the appropriate weight that
it deserves. Live testimony, live witnesses are always preferred because it gives the opposing side an opportunity to cross-examine and gives the court an opportunity to judge the candor and demeanor and veracity and body language of a witness." Moreover, "if the witnesses on her behalf are precluded from testifying, that leaves Amber and her credibility the only thing for the court to consider."
And so all eyes will be on Amber Heard.
"Very often the testimony of the protected party is the best and most persuasive evidence available. Sometimes it is the only evidence," says Margaret Bayston, executive director of Laura’s, a domestic violence shelter in Orange County, Calif., where women can also get counseling and legal support. "We often tell our clients that they are the world's foremost expert on this issue because they lived through it and nobody else can tell the story to the judge better than they can.
"Obviously this is not a decision any client takes lightly and, as you know, it takes immense courage to step up and tell the most intimate and traumatic details of their lives in a courtroom full of strangers. The fact that the restrained party is sitting a few feet away from them just adds to the stress and trauma of the situation."
There's been no sign that Depp has left the Bahamas, where he reportedly was as of last Friday, or has otherwise headed to Los Angeles yet to either appear in court or at least be in town; but Mitch Karpf says that, strategically at least, it would be a good idea for him to be nearby if it turns out that his physical presence would help his case in any way.
"If they could have settled this by now, they would have," says Brian Karpf. If the judge grants Heard's request to make the restraining order permanent (it would expire in three years), "Johnny needs to go into damage control mode," he says. "Your career is really on the line. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him enrolling in batterer intervention courses."
And whatever the judge does Friday, Brian predicts the divorce itself "will go away very, very quickly with an undisclosed settlement."
Bayston says that such cases often aren't resolved after one hearing, and if the proceedings are continued the TRO will be reissued—meaning Depp will still be required to stay at least 100 yards away from Heard and refrain from trying to directly contact her in any way.
Asked about what at least seems to be a rare confluence of these types of allegations combined with this level of celebrity, Mitch Karpf tells E! News, "We don't see much of it, but it probably goes on as much or more than with the average public at large. Most of the time they're successful at sweeping it under the rug for these very reasons."
"We see the average person who might be going through this and it's traumatic and gut-wrenching, the whole family is thrown apart," he says. "When you add on that you've got the whole world watching and judging and commenting, that's a lot of pressure for everyone, including the lawyers trying the case."
"One of them is going to be accused of being severely in the wrong here," says Brian Karpf says.
Mitch Karpf acknowledges that there are cases when people lie about such things in order to gain leverage in a divorce, "and that's despicable, any way you look at it." He also says that this is an awfully traumatic process for Heard to put herself through if she were not telling the truth.
"Knowing that she has so much to lose, knowing about the public scrutiny and everything else, one has to think why would she bring such an accusation—to risk all of that—unless something really bad happened?" he says. "And if it did, her standing up to do the right thing, perhaps sending a message to other women to fight, takes a lot of courage."
Adds Bayston, "In a high-profile case like this one, the victim has the added challenge of knowing that everything she says and does will be scrutinized in the media afterwards.
"I certainly have never heard of any victim who would willingly put themselves through this kind of tortuous experience willingly."