Fan pages, video tributes, and romance rumors: How Johnny Depp’s fandom turned its focus to his lawyer

It seems impossible to separate Vasquez’s newfound fame from the overwhelming online culture surrounding the trial, writes Clémence Michallon

Friday 24 June 2022 16:02
<p>Attorney Camille Vasquez embraces actor Johnny Depp in a courtroom at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on 17 May 2022</p>

Attorney Camille Vasquez embraces actor Johnny Depp in a courtroom at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on 17 May 2022

After wrapping up her cross-examination of Amber Heard, Camille Vasquez, one of Johnny Depp’s attorneys, turned to her client and wrapped him in a hug. The moment is immortalized in a photo that has come to encapsulate the most recent phase of the defamation trial opposing Depp and Amber Heard in Fairfax, Virginia. Vasquez’s eyes are closed. Her smile is blissful. Her golden Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels bracelets shimmer under the courtroom’s overhead lighting. Depp is seen from the back in a suit jacket, his hair in the sleek ponytail he’s worn since taking the stand as a witness himself – a departure from the earlier days of the trial, when he wore his chin-length hair down and Hollywood-messy.

It’s an image of cognitive dissonance, an oddly peaceful snapshot from a contentious, often harrowing trial. The jury has heard allegations of sexual assault, as well as physical, verbal, and mental abuse. Depp’s fans have gained momentum in person and online, where the proceedings can seem inescapable. Advocates and experts have expressed concern about how the trial will impact victims of domestic abuse and their perception.

In the weeks after the trial began, Vasquez became one of the best-known figures among followers of the case. Depp’s fans turned to her the online attention usually reserved to actors and singers. There have been celebratory tweets and Instagram fan accounts. While the trial was ongoing, Depp supporters were known to wait outside the courthouse, hoping to catch a glimpse of Vasquez and possibly get their own hug. After Vasquez’s cross-examination of Heard, a meme reimagined the attorney as Thor, the god of thunder portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in Marvel movies. Vasquez’s star only rose further after a verdict was announced on 1 June largely favoring Depp.

An associate at a law firm in Irvine, California, Vasquez is described in her professional biography as focusing on plaintiff-side defamation suits (which matches Depp’s situation in the Virginia case). She lists additional experience in contracts, torts, and employment claims, and in crisis communications and reputation management. She previously worked at a firm in Los Angeles and is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Southwestern Law School. Vasquez was promoted to partner following the Depp v Heard verdict.

During the trial, Vasquez first gained prominence as a frequent objector during testimony, especially when Depp and Heard themselves took the stand. The cross-examination of Heard, which took place between 16 and 17 May, brought her further into the online limelight. Google Trends, a tool made available by Google to measure the popularity of various search terms over time, shows that search interest for the words “Camille Vasquez” surged from 16 to 18 May. (Google Trends uses an index in which 100 indicates peak popularity for a search term, and 0 means there wasn’t enough data to analyze. Search interest for the query  “Camille Vasquez” jumped from one to 28 between 15 and 16 May, then further climbed to 59 on 17 May and 100 on 18 May.)

On Instagram, a search of Vasquez’s name brings up a handful of fan accounts. Camillevasquezofficial, described as a “supporter page for Ms. Camille”, has 34,400 followers. Its posts, the oldest of which dates back to 7 May, have largely consisted of photos and video clips of Vasquez in around the courthouse. There are others, smaller pages, including Camille_vasquez_law_passionate, Camille_vasquezz, _camille_vasquez_, and Camillevasquez_official. (None of these appear to have any official affiliation with Vasquez and present as traditional fan pages.)

With the exception of Camillevasquezofficial, none of these Instagram profiles have vast followings, but the fact that they exist at all is remarkable. Attorneys rarely, if ever, intersect in this way with fan culture, or to such an extent. Lawyers who represent famous parties in high-profile cases may attend some level of fame – their names become known, they might do some media interviews. But their clients’ fans usually don’t start treating them like celebrities in their own right. (Donna Rotunno, a lawyer who represented Harvey Weinstein during his criminal trial in 2020, did rise to a level of legal fame at the time, but a query of her name doesn’t return any fan account. Gloria Allred, who has represented clients against famous defendants such as Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and R Kelly, doesn’t appear to have any fan pages on the platform either.) On TikTok, the self-described “stan account” (a fan page) Camillevasquez has 102,400 followers. Two more fan accounts respectively have 14,300 and 9,849 followers. The hashtag #Camillevasquez has 944 million views on the platform.

It seems impossible to separate Vasquez’s newfound fame from the online culture surrounding the trial, which has become so predominant as to seem pervasive. Memes and online clips mocking Heard expose the “deep hatred” and distrust of women, experts told The Independent. Some have sought to profit off the trial by selling merchandise expressing anti-Heard sentiment. A recent report by NBC News spoke of six content creators whose content previously wasn’t related to Depp or Heard, who have now pivoted to making content about the trial. According to NBC News, this has allowed them to reach “audiences of millions on YouTube and TikTok.”

Johnny Depp and Camille Vasquez at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on 19 May 2022

This level of fame has had real-life consequences for Vasquez, beyond the groups of Depp fans waiting to catch a glimpse of her as she exits the courthouse. On 18 May, a photographer was heard in footage published by TMZ asking Vasquez about online rumors according to which she and Depp might be dating. Vasquez laughed and declined to answer further. TMZ has previously reported that the rumors are untrue and the two are “definitely not dating”, citing “sources connected to Camille Vasquez”.

Instead, a body language expert suggested to The Daily Mail that Depp and Vasquez’s relative physical closeness might be a strategic move to make Depp look like a “romantic hero”. “For Depp’s loyal fans these dramatic rituals will seem like validation,” Judi James told the newspaper. “‘If this smart, beautiful woman thinks he is OK then maybe he is,’ will be the implied message.”

Vasquez is not the first American attorney to rise to legal stardom. David Boies, Alan Dershowitz, and Johnnie Cochran come to mind. The phenomenon is old enough to have been the subject of some legal literature. Look up “celebrity attorneys” online and you’ll find no shortage of listicles and blog posts about the challenges faced by famous lawyers, along with more academic writing. A 2012 paper by Florent Bonaventure in the French history journal Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire traces the emergence of celebrity lawyers to the 1920s and links it to “emerging mass media, the birth of a ‘celebrity culture’, and a general fascination for crime and criminals”.

Johnny Depp and Camille Vasquez at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on 18 May 2022

In a 2003 article in the New York Law School Law Review, titled Celebrity Lawyers and the Cult of Personality, law professor Richard K Sherwin also drew a link between famous attorneys and the consumption of trials as entertainment. “The lawyer as celebrity has become a willing participant in the mutually assured seduction that goes on between TV journalists and producers and the lawyer pundits, anchors, and screen personalities who help make entertainment king,” he wrote.

A famous lawyer, to Sherwin, not only impacts trial coverage, but can also shape proceedings inside the courtroom, tilting them towards sensational moments. “We have come a long way from [French political scientist Alexis de] Tocqueville’s admiring account of lawyers in America as champions of prudent, counter-majoritarian restraint,” he went on to note. “Rather than serving as a deliberative brake upon popular passions, celebrated lawyers today have more often appeared in the role of high-profile agents of the media’s artificial enhancement of emotion and spectacle.”

The Depp v Heard trial stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Depp, who alleged Heard defamed him in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”. Depp asked for $50m in damages in his complaint. Heard in turn filed a counter-suit accusing him of allegedly orchestrating a “smear campaign” against her and describing his own lawsuit as a continuation of “abuse and harassment.” She asked for $100m in damages and immunity against her ex-husband’s allegations.

On 1 June, a jury announced it had found that Heard defamed Depp on three statements, and that Heard was defamed by one of three statements in her countersuit. Depp was awarded $10.35m in damages, while Heard was awarded $2m.

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