Johnny Depp Heads to U.K. Defamation Trial Over "Wife Beater" Story

Johnny Depp
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Johnny Depp

On March 23, Johnny Depp will take on News Group Newspapers over a 2018 article in The Sun that cast him as a "wife beater." The publisher of that article questioning how J.K. Rowling could be "genuinely happy" about Depp's role in Fantastic Beasts intends to defend itself from a defamation claim by proving that Depp did, in fact, beat his ex-wife Amber Heard, causing her to suffer significant injury. As a result, details about the stormy relationship between Depp and Heard will be publicly aired for the first time, with Depp attempting to show he incurred damage to his reputation as a top movie star.

With just two weeks to go until the proceeding, the case has been rocked by some 70,000 messages that were inadvertently disclosed by Depp's law firm in a filing. On Friday, a U.K. high court justice examined whether Depp had sufficiently turned over demanded records to News Group's attorneys. In a ruling,  Mr Justice Nicol gave Depp a few days to disclose additional audio recordings as well as court papers from the divorce proceedings between Depp and Heard, while stopping short of making Depp produce other items or sanctioning him for not complying with discovery demands sooner.

Just what sort of evidence may be featured at the forthcoming trial?

Depp's long-standing position is that it was Heard who was the abusive one during the marriage, and when Heard takes the witness stand at a trial that's estimated to last ten days, she may be confronted by a 2015 audio tape where she apparently stated, "I can't promise I won't get physical again, I get so mad I lose it."

During a taped therapy session, it's also been reported that Heard told Depp, "I don't know what the motion of my actual hand was, but you're fine, I did not hurt you, I did not punch you, I was hitting you."

Are there more recordings besides what was leaked to The Daily Mail?

In a message last month to the opposing counsel in the libel case, Depp attorney Adam Waldman wrote, "There are more tapes to come. I assume you were blind sided by these tapes, which Ms Heard has admitted she possesses, because she didn't provide them to you. If you would like to discuss a way out of the morass for your client, please call me."

In today's decision, the judge notes that the U.K. tabloid spoke of "tapes" in the plural as a "series" of conversations, plus nods to Waldman's conversation, and decides these audio recordings are subject to disclosure.

The same goes for the relevancy of materials from the divorce proceeding. In that case, which was settled but has hardly stopped Depp and Heard from fighting with each other in court, Heard presented herself as being a victim of abuse from Depp, such as when the two travelled to the Bahamas in 2014 to try to help him reduce his dependency on prescription painkillers and allegedly other drugs. During the trip, Depp was said to have had "several manic episodes in the course of which he assaulted Ms Heard." Depp admits taking the trip to cure his painkiller addition, but denies it had anything to do with other drugs. He also denies assaulting Heard, who once texted, "He's manic. Full-on flipping out. Says he wants to quit. Give up... I just have him the rest of the meds. Just now."

Justice Nicol writes that this tranche of materials may be in the hands of Depp's divorce lawyers, but agrees that it's still within his control and that it, too, is subject to disclosure.

The News Group has less luck with gaining more text messages even if the recent disclosure of inadvertently disclosed ones have showcased some explosive texts.

In particular, there are 2013 messages from Depp to actor Paul Bettany, one of his friends.

Depp once wrote Bettany, "Let's burn Amber!!!," later following up, "Let's drown her before we burn her!!! I'll fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she's dead."

Attorneys for News Group pointed to these messages as well as others like when Depp texted Heard about an evening of "disco bloodbath" as indicative of insufficient disclosure. They surmised there may be other "missing texts."

Depp's attorneys defended what they produced and maintained that they had done their best to investigate any missing texts.

The judge points to a recent amended disclosure statement from Depp's attorneys and appears to find their efforts satisfactory for now. The rest of his decision also takes up other discovery matters, including medical records, Depp's computer and documents from Depp's ongoing defamation case against Heard. See it in full here.