The Depp v. Heard defamation trial verdict has left some feeling victorious and others wary of what the future holds. Attorney Feldman sat down with IndieWire to discuss the verdict and implications of this case as well as the tides of public opinion. Keep reading for more information.
Case and Verdict
The troubles between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp began years ago, but the recent defamation trial has become the center point of their history. In the period after their contentious divorce, Heard alluded to abuse – without mentioning any names – in a now-infamous Washington Post Op-Ed.
Depp filed suit against Heard for alleged defamation, claiming he lost tens of millions of dollars in acting roles, including Pirates of the Caribbean, due to being branded an abuser. He lost a similar case in the United Kingdom a few years ago but proceeded with a case in the United States.
After weeks of testimony, evidence, and vitriolic debate, the court ruled in in favor of Depp on each of his claims, awarding him $15,000,000 (reduced to $10.35M due to a cap on punitive damages in VA. Heard was awarded $2M based on a defamatory statement by Depp’s lawyer stating that she had staged a fight scene before calling the police in a failed effort to get Depp arrested . Sadly, the verdict may have a substantial negative impact on the #MeToo movement, scaring women into remaining silent if sexually assaulted or abused by a man of wealth and power.
Heard, Depp, and MeToo
Attorney Feldman is a renowned #MeToo attorney who works with victims of sexual assault and harassment, pay discrimination, and gender bias. As an experienced attorney in this category of law, Attorney Feldman is familiar with the tide shifts on the topic. Although Feldman sees the Heard verdict as harmful to the #MeToo movement generally, he does not believe that all celebrities or public figures will get the same public support as Depp. For example, Feldman believes that Marilyn Manson, whose reputation and persona are closer to that of R Kelly than Depp, is unlikely to get much public support in his own defamation trial against actress Evan Rachel Wood.
Based on the public’s reaction to the case, Feldman isn’t surprised by the verdict, but believes it is likely to deter women from going public with assault and abuse claims against rich and powerful men in the future. Attorney Feldman and others are concerned that future #MeToo cases will follow the same pattern as the Depp v. Heard trial:
Woman issues claims of abuse → Powerful man files counter defamation claim → Case results in public outrage/intrigue → Woman forced to spend massive sums to defend herself, win or lose, and risk significant public ridicule and threats to health and safety
Feldman anticipates that the courts will see countless defamation cases from predatory men countering accusations of MeToo abuse leaving the victims to fend for themselves in the court of public opinion while risking their livelihoods.
Attorney Feldman told IndieWire: “Personally, I think the most damaging testimony in Heard’s case was from the TMZ reporter […] Those two facts were so easy to spin into ‘she fabricated everything.’ Rarely will you ever have evidence like that to introduce in a trial like this.”
Unfortunately for other #MeToo survivors, this case may embolden men with similar track records to file defamation claims that could exhaust the victim’s finances and expose them to public ridicule. Another unintended consequence of this verdict is that it may deter women from filing internal complaints to HR at work, fearing that if the man loses his job he will sue for defamation and claim his lost salary as damages. In California, there is a qualified privilege for internal complaints of sexual harassment, whereas the privilege is absolute, and provides far greater protection against defamation claims, if they skip the internal complaint procedures and go straight to filing a claim with EEOC or DFEH or file a civil lawsuit. This may result in more litigation and less informal resolution of these claims by employers themselves.
Meet Attorney Lee Feldman
Attorney Feldman is a founding partner at Feldman Browne, APC, and a nationally recognized employment lawyer. His outstanding career as a legal advocate has garnered him many awards and established him as a leading authority on employment law in California.
In addition to his work in employment law, Attorney Feldman has represented countless #MeToo victims and helped them recover a collective $125 million in damages. A champion for sexual assault victims, Feldman understands that these cases are far more nuanced and complex than what meets the eye. He has worked with high-profile cases and served as panel counsel for the Women in Film Legall Defense Fund and #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund.
Not only is Attorney Feldman known for his extensive support for victims, but he is also a proud family man and the #1 supporter of his wife and daughter. He believes in a future where women and workers are treated equitably and strives to bring that future into the present every day.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment, contact our #MeToo attorney at Feldman Browne, APC today.