Johnny Depp Fans Paid Thousands for New Court Docs. Did It Backfire?
As Amber Heard and Johnny Depp both prepare to appeal the verdict in their mudslinging defamation trial, a newly unsealed document dump reignited the frenzy over the highly publicized trial
The mayhem around the six-week trial — which Depp specifically requested to be televised — was nearly nearly, even when taking into account that would naturally be interested in two high-profile actors airing out their dirty laundry. Depp had emerged the winner in the court of public opinion even before the verdict came down, with fans stationing themselves outside the Virginia courthouse in hopes of getting a wave from the Pirates of the Caribbean actor.
But two months after the trial’s conclusion, Depp fans and curious minds are still eager to consume anything related to the case. So much so that last weekend, they helped raise more than $10,000 in a matter of hours to fund the $3,300 cost of recently unsealed trial documents.
While an initial analysis of the document dump — more than 6,600 pages — doesn’t seem to do Depp any favors, four legal experts tell Rolling Stone that what people are seeing are all the explosive claims and potentially embarrassing claims that Depp’s lawyers successfully kept out of the trial.
“Absolutely, it was worse for Johnny,” Brett Ward, a New York family attorney, says. “Johnny Depp’s team won some key pretrial legal rulings. Overall, because he had better rulings during the pre-trial portion of the case, the stuff that he kept out hurts him more. The totality of the material now looks worse for him.”
“I think it would have been naive for anybody to think all these motions were only going to have flattering things for Johnny Depp and unflattering things for Amber Heard,” legal analyst Emily D. Baker says. “I always expected it to be both sides slinging mud at one another because that’s what pretrial motions are.”
“People have their minds made up about the two of them after that trial,” entertainment and media litigation attorney Dan Rozansky adds. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t know that anything really moves the needle in terms of changing public perception.”
Andrea Burkhart, a lawyer in Washington state who had garnered 50,000 YouTube subscribers from content primarily devoted to covering the trial, raised the funds by asking her Twitter followers to pitch in so she could purchase the documents. (Burkhart said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone that she donated $7,000 in leftover funds to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Art of Elysium.)
Judge Penney Azcarate ordered for all previously sealed documents be unsealed last month, essentially opening the floodgates to all the explosive claims that both sides had tried to include in the trial. “In this matter, both litigants sued one another, thereby opening themselves up to the public forum of a jury trial. Court records are public information,” Azcarate wrote.
The trove of papers mostly contains pretrial discovery motions, where each side duked it out over what would be permitted into the trial, with Depp winning several key points of contention, including the omission of details about his friendship with shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
Beyond his alleged drug use with Manson, Heard’s team had tried to pull in more of the men’s texts, where Manson called his current wife an “Amber 2.0,” according to the documents. Depp’s team had wanted to keep all mention of Manson out of the case, referring to the serious claims of physical and sexual abuse against the musician, claiming Heard was trying to “smear Mr. Depp under a guilty by association theory.”
The court papers also gave more insight to Depp’s strained relationship with Disney even before the studio dropped him from Pirates of the Caribbean 6 in 2018. His former agent Tracey Jacobs testedified in a deposition that a Disney executive had called her up when Depp allegedly appeared on TV “drunk and stoned” and asked her, “What the hell was wrong with your client?”
Jacobs ultimately testified about Depp’s conduct, as did his ex-girlfriend Ellen Barkin who told the court about Depp’s alleged drug use during their relationship in the late 1990s. But a claim she made in a 2019 deposition about Depp allegedly giving her a Quaalude the first time they had sex, never found its way to court, according to the unsealed filings.
“He came on to me in the living room of my house, pulled me onto his lap and said something like, ‘Oh, come on Ellen,’ or whatever,” Barkin said in her deposition. “I protested a little and then, not too much. And that was that.” Later adding, “He gave me a Quaalude and asked me if I wanted to fuck.”
The filings show that Depp’s team had tried to get the judge to sign off on using nude photos of Heard and highlighting her past as an exotic dancer, while Heard had tried to refer to Depp’s medications to suggest he had erectile dysfunction.
Unsealing information regarding Depp’s alleged medications was surprising to Baker, who had been following the trial closely on her YouTube channel, as Judge Azcarate had kept under seal both parties’ personal information, including their medical history.
Los Angeles attorney Ryan Baker says Depp’s team appeared to have the upper hand due to clever legal maneuvering, such as Depp’s team fighting hard in pretrial motions against having him undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which Heard had done.
“Amber Heard made emotional distress or post-traumatic stress an issue in the case, because she made that an issue, she had to submit to a psychiatric evaluation,” he says, referencing a clinical psychologist testifying that she had diagnosed Heard with borderline personality disorder. “That’s pretty damning. Then you are waiting for the other person to get up and say [something] about Johnny Depp but Johnny Depp never got evaluated because he never had to submit because he didn’t make emotional distress or post-traumatic stress any kind of issue in the case.”
The same goes with Heard’s team accusing Depp of “modifying” photos of his bruises and handing over snippets of chopped audio recordings. During the trial, the court heard how the actress allegedly edited images of her injuries — but claims of Depp doing the same thing never gained the same traction. Texts between Heard and Depp’s former assistant Stephen Deuters about Depp allegedly “kicking” Heard in 2014 weren’t permitted into court, despite the exchange being used in Depp’s failed libel trial against British tabloid The Sun.
Each of these wins played a role in how Depp’s team was able to successfully shape the case to their benefit months before heading into the trial. “A lot of court cases generally come down to the quality of legal representation,” Ward says. “I think they both had very good reputations, but I think some pretrial releases went Johnny Depp’s way that helped him.”
Baker offers that Heard’s team had some big wins by keeping details of more damaging testimonies and declarations out of the court, including from Jennifer Howell and Heard’s sister Whitney, noting those details were “tightly and narrowly constrained.”
All attorneys agree the fight between Heard and Depp will drag on, as both have notified the court that they plan to appeal their respective verdicts, with the possibility of Heard using some of her pretrial discovery that didn’t make it into the trial as part of her basis for an appeal.
Already, Heard has complained that she had a “binder worth of years of notes dating back to 2011 from the very beginning of my relationship that was taken by my doctor, who I was reporting the abuse to” that were deemed inadmissible at trial. “How could they make a judgment, how they could not come to that conclusion,” Heard said of the jury’s decision.
Both parties have until September 5 to file their official appeals, with their award payments on hold until they learn if their appeals will move forward. Heard has made clear that she can’t afford to pay Depp the $10 million in damages, recently selling off her California home.
Reveling in his redemption, Depp has joined TikTok and gone on tour with Jeff Beck to promote their new joint album 18. Still, there’s been no signs of an official comeback for Depp on the acting front. “This may not be over in the court of public opinion, more importantly in the opinion of [Depp’s] employers,” Rozansky says.