Jurors in Depp-Heard trial could award big verdict to winner

Jurors at Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s bombshell defamation trial could come back with a big cash verdict for the winning side — even if the celebrities don’t come off as sympathetic, legal experts told The Post.

The seven jurors have been hearing about the warring Hollywood pair’s problems for five weeks, and been told about their large movie paydays and jet-setting lifestyle, including to Depp’s private island in the Bahamas.

“Ordinarily people look at these two and think there are more sympathetic characters to worry about than Johnny Depp’s ex-wife,” said Virginia defamation lawyer Jeremiah Denton.

Still, that might not stop the jury from awarding a large sum in damages, Denton and other experts said.

“They could be really unsympathetic but they could come back and say it’s mathematically probable that I’ve lost at least $25 million in future income,” Denton said. “Well then, it’s kind of hard to turn your back on that.”

Depp, 58, had forensic accountant Michael Spindler testify at the Fairfax, Virginia trial that he lost $40 million in income following Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed calling herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

His talent manager Jack Whigham also took the stand saying Heard’s essay sank a $22.5 million deal with Disney to continue his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

Heard hasn’t yet called a witness to discuss her alleged $100 million financial losses from her claims that Depp and his lawyer defamed her when they denied her abuse allegations. Though on Thursday, Heard’s talent agent Jessica Kovacevic testified that Heard’s career prospects tanked after the claims that she was lying.

Michael Spindler testified Heard’s op-ed made Johnny Depp lose a significant amount of money.
EPA/Jim Watson

Even if Depp or Heard proves they were defamed, they also have to prove that the defamatory statements caused financial losses totaling $50 million and $100 million, respectively.

Texas civil lawyer Katherine Lizardo agreed that hearing about celeb lives could make jurors less sympathetic, but noted that jurors may be invested in the larger issues at play in the case including perjury, defamation and domestic violence.

“Ordinary people in general might be less sympathetic whenever the parties are rich or have more money than them,” Lizardo told The Post. “But I think in this situation there is a chance that the jury might consider awarding damages to whoever wins their defamation claim because of the big issues here.”

Amber Heard
Amber Heard claims she suffered $100 million in financial losses from defamation.
EPA/ Shawn Thew

The attorney said the jury might want to send a “message” to whoever would lose in the case.

“The jury might say that one of them committed actual malice … that they will say you have severely damaged the reputation of the other and now you have made us sit here and listen to all of this for the past six weeks and they might be upset in that way,” Lizardo said.

“I think the jury is very much invested in this,” she added. “If they are going to get upset I think now it’s not about the money anymore, it’s about the principle for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.”

Jurors at Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
Depp has to prove the defamatory statements caused financial losses totaling $50 million.
REUTERS

Denton, the Virginia lawyer, noted that on the other hand, the jurors might not want to award a large sum to apparently already wealthy actors.

“Because they are privileged actors who have a life where they do not know what financial want is, a jury could say ‘What in the world are they in here wasting their time for?’ and award one of them a dollar,” Denton said , noting that he knew of at least one Virginia case where a jury awarded the measly dollar sum to send a message.

On Thursday, at the fifth week of trial, jurors heard Depp’s former business partner Joel Mandel testify about how the actor spent $10,000 a day on a security guard and employed doctors and nurses to help him stay sober – to the tune of $100,000 a month.

Joel Mandel
Joel Mandel confirmed Depp actively sought help to stay sober.
Reuters

During Mandel’s testimony, Ian Runkle – a Canadian lawyer with no connection to the case who’s observing the trial while he’s in Virginia for work – said he saw “some of [the jurors] writing and some expressions at the big dollar amounts of mega-celeb life.”

Runkle said jurors have been “very poker-faced” but noted that they seem to “lean in [Depp’s] direction.” And he said they seemed “checked-out” by the end of Heard’s direct.

Denton explained that whichever side loses is likely to appeal. But even if the award is very high compared to prior defamation jury awards in Virginia, a court may still uphold the figure because of their large incomes.

“Because these people were such high income generators, it is very possible that a very high award in the tens of millions of dollars could be upheld,” Denton told The Post.

He also explained that this case couldn’t accurately be compared to prior defamation cases and jury verdicts in Virginia.

“The court has actually been pretty explicit about saying you can’t compare one defamation verdict to another because the moving parts are so different, the factors are so different,” Denton said. “We probably don’t have another defamation case in our books – in Virginia at least – involving a famous movie star who makes many millions a year. That makes a huge difference.”

Reps for Depp and Heard declined to comment.

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