Jury returns with question in Depp lawsuit

Jurors in the explosive trial have more than 40 detailed, crucial questions to consider that get to the heart of the matter and will decide who wins.

Jurors who decided the outcome of the epic trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard returned to their deliberations on Tuesday after the US Memorial Day holiday.

But it could be a while before they reach a ruling with court documents showing the seven men and women must search the fine print of as many as 42 separate questions before making a decision.

Of the 42 questions on the “Special Judgment Form,” 24 relate to Depp’s case against Heard and the remaining 18 to Heard’s case against Depp. If the judges believe Depp is more believable and answer yes to more of his questions, Heard could be scuttled.

Tuesday, US time, the jurors returned to the courtroom to ask Judge Penney Azcarate to clarify one of those more than 40 questions.

The question was whether they believed the headline of the op-ed, which read, “I spoke against sexual assault and faced the wrath of our culture” was false. Judge Penney Azcarate told the court in Fairfax, Virginia just before 2 p.m. that the jury asked whether the question pertained only to the headline itself or to the entire opinion.

She said she would instruct the judges to consider the headline — not the opinion piece as a whole.

“The statement is the headline and not the whole opinion,” the judge said.

Heard is being sued by Depp for $50 million ($A67 million) for suggesting he killed her in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. He claims her accusations are false and cost him lucrative movie roles.

Heard has filed a counter-charge, asking for $100 million ($A134 million) and alleging she had suffered “rampant physical assault and abuse” at his hands, but was vilified when she was alleged to have fabricated the charges.

Both sides’ closing arguments ended on Friday at the Fairfax County courthouse in Virginia, with the jury retiring around 2 p.m. to consider the case.

A ruling is expected this week. But the court document, seen by the Daily mailreveals that they have to consider a huge amount of detail.

The 10 pages of the special judgment contain a series of questions, mainly about the details of the defamation charges, but also about the amount of damages to be paid to the winning party.

Questions about Depp’s case

The first pages deal with Depp’s allegations against Ms. Heard. The first question focuses on the headline of the opinion: “I spoke out against sexual violence – and faced the wrath of our culture. That has to change.”

It asks the jurors whether Depp has proved all elements of his defamation charges.

It’s this very first question that prompted the jurors to return to court on Tuesday to ask Judge Azcarate whether they were being asked to consider just the headline in that question, or the entire opinion.

“I think the confusion in this particular case came about because the statement in question is the title of the opinion. So I think they’re just confused whether it’s the whole opinion or just the title as a statement,” she said.

“And obviously the title is the statement, so I wanted to answer that the title is the statement in question”.

If the juror believes that statement is defamatory, there are seven more questions that delve deeper into the details of that opinion.

For example, the form asks the juror whether he believes the defamation was intentional by Heard.

It also asks if Depp has proven “real malice”. This is an American legal term that says that a statement has been made with willful and reckless disregard for the truth.

Another set of questions asks the judges to: think about another line from Heard’s Washington Post article – arguably the most important line in the entire op-ed

“Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger at women who speak out.”

Depp’s legal team has argued that while the… pirates of the caribbean star may not have been mentioned in that line — not even in the article at all — the implication was that Heard was referring to him.

Again, the jurors are asked if it can be proven that the rule is defamatory and – if so – why.

There are still more questions about other extracts from Heard’s article. Finally, if the judges believe Heard has defamed Depp, they are asked how much punitive and compensatory damages should be awarded to the star.

If the jurors don’t believe Depp has been defamed, Heard wins and no damages are due.

Questions about Heard’s case

The second part of the form focuses on Heard’s counterclaim against Depp.

That rests on a Daily mail April 2020 article quoting Depp’s then-lawyer Adam Waldman as saying Heard made “fake” sexual assault allegations against Depp that contained “hoax” facts.

Heard’s legal team has said that while Depp may not have made those comments directly, Mr. Waldman was in fact acting on the star’s behalf. Depp denies that claim.

Jurors are asked if Heard has proved all elements of her libel suit against Depp. If the juror says yes, they need to dig deeper into questions, including whether Mr. Waldman was an “agent” for Depp.

The juror is also asked to deliberate on whether the comments were made with “genuine malice.”

As in Depp’s case, the juror is asked how much damages Heard should receive if they rule in her favor.

On Friday, Benjamin Rottenborn, Heard’s attorney, reminded the jury that the burden of proof was on Depp and that he had to show that every case of abuse Heard accused him of was false.

“If Amber has been abused even once by Mr. Depp, then she wins,” Rottenborn said.

“We’re not just talking about physical abuse, we’re talking about emotional abuse, physical, financial abuse, sexual abuse.

“It’s not about whose wife is the best,” he added.

“It’s not about whether you think Ms Heard offended Mr Depp.

“If you think they both insulted each other… Amber wins.”

Camille Vasquez, on behalf of Depp, said Heard’s claims were “false” and “defamatory” and that she had an “appearance” in court to “play the part of her life as a heroic survivor of brutal abuse.”

“She has told you what she thinks you need to hear in order to convict this man for domestic violence and rapist,” Vasquez said.

Depp’s team said the evidence presented by Heard’s team of abuse was insignificant or may have been manipulated. And the star’s lawyers asked why there were no medical records when there was incident after incident of abuse.

Ms Vasquez also said that “no woman” before Heard had ever claimed that Depp was violent.

One of Depp’s other lawyers went for the carotid artery.

“You’ve now met the real Amber Heard: it’s scary,” Benjamin Chew told the jury.

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