Johnny Depp’s attorney claims social media ‘played no role whatsoever’ in jury’s verdict in Amber Heard trial

‘My view is that social media played no role whatsoever,’ Ben Chew told Good Morning America

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 08 June 2022 13:45 BST
Johnny Depp’s attorney claims social media ‘played no role' in jury’s verdict in defamation case

Johnny Depp’s attorney has claimed that social media “played no role whatsoever” in the jury’s verdict in his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard.

Ben Chew, who represented the Pirates actor at the trial in Fairfax, Virginia, dismissed claims from Ms Heard’s legal team that the social media circus surrounding the case could have influenced the outcome.

“My view is that social media played no role whatsoever,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday morning.

“This was a decision made by the jury on the evidence presented on both sides.

“And as Camille [Vasquez] said, it was overwhelmingly in Mr Depp’s favour.”

Throughout the six-week trial, a bizarre online obsession blew up on TikTok with social media users sharing edited clips of the courtroom drama, memes and conspiracies about the case.

The online frenzy was largely skewed in favour of Mr Depp, with dominant hashtags including #amberheardisaliar and #justiceforjohnnydepp.

Mr Chew and Ms Vasquez, who both became the focus of online fandom during their work on the case, insisted to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the “key to victory” was the “facts” and “evidence” heard in the courtroom.

“I think the key to victory was focusing on the facts and the evidence and Johnny’s opportunity to speak the truth for the first time,” said Ms Vasquez.

She added that it was “six years in the making”, saying: “He was able to connect with the jury and the general public and tell what really happened in this relationship”.

The attorneys doubled down on their denial that social media played any part in the verdict in an appearance on NBC’s Today show on Wednesday.

“I dont think there’s any reason to believe the jurors violated their oath,” said Mr Chew, adding that it was “disappointing” to hear Ms Heard’s legal team make that suggestion in the aftermath of the trial.

Johnny Depp waving to fans gathered outside the courthouse in Virginia on 27 May
Johnny Depp waving to fans gathered outside the courthouse in Virginia on 27 May (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Ms Vasquez added that the online obsession was “everywhere but they were admonished every single night and they had a tremendous amount of disrespect I think for the court and the process and they were doing the best they could”.

Mr Depp’s attorneys also branded suggestions that the Pirates star or his team carried out a coordinated social media smear campaign against Ms Heard “utterly baseless” and “categorically false”.

“That is utterly baseless,” Mr Chew said, adding that the claims were “absolutely absurd” and that such allegations had been thrown out by the judge “very early in the case”.

Ms Vasquez added that the claims were “categorically false”.

Their comments come after Ms Heard’s attorney said she believed jurors could have been influenced by the “lopsided” social media frenzy around the case, which was skewed dramatically in Mr Depp’s favour.

Elaine Bredehoft appeared on The Today Show on Thursday morning – just hours after the jury handed down its verdict finding that Ms Heard defamed her ex-husband in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post.

“How can you not[be influenced]?” she asked.

“They went home every night. They have families. The families are on social media.

“We had a 10-day break in the middle because of the judicial conference. There’s no way they couldn’t have been influenced by it.”

On Tuesday, Mr Depp joined TikTok for the first time, sharing a video where thanked his “loyal” fans and shared footage of his followers who camped outside the courthouse each night to see him.

“To all of my most treasured, loyal and unwavering supporters. We’ve been everywhere together, we have seen everything together. We have walked the same road together. We did the right thing together, all because you cared,” he said.

“And now, we will all move forward together. You are, as always, my employers and once again I am whittled down to no way to say thank you, other than just by saying thank you. So, thank you. My love & respect, JD.”

Amber Heard testifies during the defamation trial on 5 May
Amber Heard testifies during the defamation trial on 5 May (REUTERS)

The footage included clips of Mr Depp waving to the fans as he was driven to and from the courthouse during the trial.

As of Wednesday morning, he had 8.3m followers and the TikTok had topped 16.2m views.

Last week, Mr Depp won his defamation lawsuit against Ms Heard after a jury of seven determined that she had defamed him on all three counts in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post.

In the op-ed, Ms Heard described herself as a victim of domestic abuse and spoke of feeling “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.

Jurors awarded Mr Depp $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages, before Fairfax County Circuit Judge Penney Azcarate reduced the latter to the state’s legal limit of $350,000.

Ms Heard won one of her three counterclaims against her ex-husband, with the jury finding that Mr Depp – via his lawyer Adam Waldman – defamed her by branding her allegations about a 2016 incident “an ambush, a hoax”.

She was awarded $2m in compensatory damages but $0 in punitive damages, leaving the Aquaman actress $8.35m out of pocket.

Ms Heard described the verdict as “a setback” for women who speak up with allegations of abuse.

Attorney Camille Vasquez hugs Johnny Depp in the courtroom on 17 May
Attorney Camille Vasquez hugs Johnny Depp in the courtroom on 17 May (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Her attorney has said she plans to appeal and claimed that Ms Heard does not have the funds to pay the damages.

Mr Depp’s attorneys suggested in their GMA interview that he would be willing to forego the $8.35m in damages if Ms Heard drops her appeal.

“You have said that the goal was not to impoverish Ms Heard – is it possible that we could see a settlement where she foregoes the appeal in return for Mr Depp waving any monetary damages?” Mr Stephanopoulos asked.

Mr Chew said he couldn’t speak about his private conversations with Mr Depp but noted that the actor testified, and that the lawyers said in their closing statements, that “this was never about money for Mr Depp”.

“This was about restoring his reputation and he has done that,” Mr Chew said.

“So you’re not disclosing any privileges, but it sounds like that’s something that could be on the table but it’s up to Ms Heard?” Mr Stephanopoulos pressed.

“We have to be careful what we say, but this was about Mr Depp’s reputation, that’s what it was about for him,” Mr Chew responded.

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