The bombshell defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard cast a spotlight on many in its wide cast of characters, not the least of which being the legal team that failed to secure a win for the Aquaman actor.
Almost one year after the losing verdict, the trial is now being put back on display through Channel 4’s new three-part documentary Depp v Heard. The series from Bafta-nominated director Emma Cooper, pledges to examine what the blockbuster events of last spring reveal about “violence, gender and the memeification of justice in the era of post-truth”.
For those who need a refresher, Mr Depp, 58 at the time, had sued his ex-wife Ms Heard, then 35, for $50m over an op-ed she had written for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she discussed domestic abuse and experiencing “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.
Although she had not named Mr Depp – to whom she was married between 2015 and 2017 – his lawyers argued that readers of the newspaper were likely to assume he was the person responsible for the ordeal she alluded to and claimed that the article had caused their client to lose out on lucrative movie roles as a result.
Ms Heard countersued her estranged former husband – whom she met when they starred together as lovers in The Rum Diary in 2011 – for $100m, arguing that it was she who has been defamed by one of his attorneys, who had argued that her claims to victimhood were a “hoax”.
The case duly went to trial and for seven weeks, commencing 11 April 2022, proceedings unfolded at the Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia with the entire world watching on via livestream.
Viewers were soon picking over every barbed interaction or seemingly-significant glance between the two Hollywood stars and their respective legal teams on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, obsessing over the minutiae of the case in intricate detail, hunting out hot takes and fiercely advocating for their chosen side.
On 1 June, the jury returned a verdict largely in favour of Mr Depp and ordered that Ms Heard must pay him $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages, also siding with Ms Heard on one point from her counterclaim, requiring Mr Depp to pay her $2m.
Both sides appealed against their respective verdicts before finally agreeing a settlement in December.
As Depp v Heard invites us to return to those feverish days, here is a look back at the members of Ms Heard’s legal team who became unlikely social media stars as a result of their parts in a real-life courtroom drama.
Amber Heard’s lead attorney Elaine Bredehoft has been a practising litigator since 1984 in both state and federal courts in Virginia, DC and Maryland and is a co-founder and partner of the Virginia-based firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Nadelhaft.
Originally from Minnesota and recognised as a specialist in employment law, Ms Bredehoft is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
She enjoyed her fair share of memorable moments during last year’s proceedings, notably drawing a grin from Mr Depp when she sportingly lowered her voice to impersonate him, reading out a transcript of a tape in which the actor had declared: “You will not see my eyes again.”
More seriously, the attorney brought an affecting line from her client when she asked Ms Heard why her former husband cannot now look her in the eye and she answered: “Because he’s guilty. He knows he’s lying. Why can’t he look at me? I survived that man and I’m here and I’m able to look at him.”
Some of Ms Bredehoft’s less glorious moments, which nevertheless went viral, included her being on the receiving end of multiple quick-fire objections from Mr Depp’s counsel Camille Vasquez, interrogating vaping concierge Alejandro Romero, bluntly asking airport security officer Beverly Leonard whether she had only volunteered to appear as a witness so that “you can get on TV” (an attack that left Mr Depp visibly astonished) and her attempted take-down of another witness, former TMZ reporter Morgan Tremaine, by asking him whether he was pursuing his “15 minutes of fame” by speaking up on behalf of the Hollywood star.
“I could say the same thing about taking Amber Heard as a client, for you,” Mr Tremaine waspishly replied.
Ms Brederhoft’s co-counsel, also a partner in the same law firm, arguably provided the finest comic moment of the entire trial when he raised a “hearsay objection” to his own questioning of Ben King, Ms Heard’s house manager.
“But you asked the question,” perplexed Judge Penney Azcarate responded, bringing stutters of embarrassment from Mr Nadelhaft and giggles from the opposition bench.
Also on Team Heard was Ben Rottenborn of Woods Rogers, who also suffered ridicule at the hands of the many Johnny Depp fans watching proceedings play out online and was the subject of several parody accounts and viral clips after Mr Depp was perceived to have gotten the upper hand over him during cross-examination.
When Mr Rotternborn questioned the actor on whether he was inclined to drink whiskey in the morning, Mr Depp drew a laugh by asking: “Isn’t Happy Hour any time?”
“He’d handle it just about better than anyone else I know,” Jay O’Keeffe, a former colleague, told Insider.
“He’s extraordinarily level-headed. I suspect that nobody around here or at his firm would have been ready for the level of backlash this case is getting.”
Mr Rottenborn graduated from Stanford Law School in 2006 and was a partner at giant Chicago firm Kirkland & Ellis within six years.
From there, he unexpectedly relocated to Roanoke, Virginia, and began working for Woods Rogers, pulling in major clients including Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and Wells Fargo and also representing nine victims of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, helping them to secure damages.
Outside of the courtroom, he is said to be a keen mountain climber, runner and Little League coach.
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