In a far-reaching article in USA Today, experts in defamation law, public relations, and civil rights have the same message for fallen idol Johnny Depp after his crushing legal defeat in his libel case against the Sun: Drop your legal disputes and rebuild your brand.
According to the piece, Eric Schiffer, chairman of Los Angeles-based Reputation Management Consultants, says Depp should drop the Virginia case against his ex-wife Amber Heard, who’s 2018 column in The Washington Post on domestic abuse incited the fading A-lister to name her in his lawsuit, although he was not specifically named in the editorial. “If I was advising Depp, I’d recommend settling prior to a verdict” in that case, Schiffer said. “If Depp had ignored Heard’s provocative column, he would have averted a cycle of trouble.”
Schiffer agrees with many that Heard’s reputation may have suffered a little but probably not as much as Depp’s. “Some argue this kind of attention helps her because her star is nowhere near his [but] I don’t see her career affected…The soul-crushing pain to reputation is largely to Depp and less to her.”
Los Angeles civil rights lawyer DeWitt Lacy agrees, saying Depp’s pursuit of the Virginia case is foolish. He compares Depp to Mel Gibson, the mega-movie star who was caught making anti-Semitic statements among other allegations.
“He made a number of horrendously inappropriate statements and lost the respect of many folks inside and outside of Hollywood,” Lacy says. “But he’s still making movies. That’s where Johnny Depp can end up if he quits beating a drum that alienates rather than attracts people.”
Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Lara Yeretsian believes it’s possible Depp’s fame might influence a Virginia jury but “with the new attention to both sexual abuse and domestic violence, jurors may no longer be willing to give a pass to movie stars, even those they admire,” she says. “Why continue to bring attention to his former tumultuous relationship? The best career move for Depp right now is to let go and move on.”
Lee Berlik, a Virginia lawyer and expert on defamation and libel cases, believes the Virginia case could be dismissed before the trial and expects the U.K. libel verdict to have some impact on it.
The USA Today piece explains established legal concepts prevent litigants from re-litigating the same dispute in a different court for a ‘second bite at the apple.’ The Virginia case is not a mirror image of the U.K. case but the common issue is whether Depp abused his wife. So Berlik thinks Heard’s lawyers could argue for dismissal on the grounds the case has already been decided by ‘a court of competent jurisdiction.’
“Even if they don’t seek dismissal, the U.K. judgment does not bode well for Depp,” Berlik says. “He will have to prove that Heard’s accusations about him were false…It’s hard to imagine Depp winning his Virginia case unless he’s able to present evidence that for some reason was not available to the U.K. court.”
For more, read the complete USA Today article.