Will Johnny Depp's victory have a 'chilling effect' on the #MeToo movement?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Johnny Depp has won his defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, whom he sued for writing an op-ed about becoming a "public figure representing domestic abuse." During the closely-watched trial, Depp and Heard both accused one another of being the abuser in their marriage.

Depp was awarded over $10 million in damages, as a jury found Heard did defame him in the article despite his name never being mentioned in it. Heard countersued, arguing Depp defamed her via his lawyer's statements that her claims were a hoax, and the jury sided with Heard on one count, awarding her $2 million.

A shock outcome

Many experts were stunned by the verdict, having expected Depp to lose the case or at least not win on all counts. After all, Heard would only have to prove a single instance of abuse for Depp's lawsuit to fail, so the verdict suggested the jury didn't believe even one of Heard's allegations. Depp previously lost a similar case in the U.K., where he sued a British tabloid that called him a wife-beater. "I am very shocked and surprised," CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson said, noting the jury almost "completely" rejected Heard's abuse claims.

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Analysts said it was particularly notable that the jury awarded Depp $5 million in punitive damages, which are meant to serve as punishment, though Virginia law required the judge to lower this to $350,000. Still, entertainment attorney Mitra Ahouraian explained to NBC News this indicated that not only was the jury saying Heard "caused harm" to Depp but that she should "also be punished" for it because she did so "in a way that was malicious."

A 'total loss' for Amber Heard

The fact that both Depp and Heard were found to have defamed each other may initially suggest a mixed result where both parties can claim victory. But Law & Crime founder Dan Abrams argued that's not the case and the outcome was a complete win for Depp and "total loss" for Heard. "The takeaway from this case is these jurors believed Johnny Depp, and they didn't believe Amber Heard," Abrams explained, so the verdict provides "vindication" for the actor — one that could potentially allow him to regain his career.

Indeed, the jury "flat out found that she was lying," attorney Rachel Fiset told CBS News, making this a "pretty damning verdict" for the Aquaman star, especially given how difficult it is to prove defamation against a public figure. The jury sided with Heard on only one count, finding Depp's lawyer defamed her with a specific claim about Heard and her friends conspiring to stage a scene to "ambush" Depp and set him up to police. But this was really a "token" win for Heard, Abrams told Good Morning America, and the jury didn't find two other statements calling her allegations a "hoax" to be defamatory.

A chilling effect?

Numerous experts expressed concern the verdict may discourage women from coming forward with claims of domestic abuse out of fear they, too, could face an expensive defamation trial.

"This will have a massive chilling effect on the #MeToo movement, on women speaking out," criminal defense attorney Caroline Polisi argued on MSNBC. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence CEO Ruth Glenn told NBC it will give survivors "one more thing to think about before they speak up," and women may look at Heard's case and say they're "not equipped to go through something like that," Jodi Kantor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who reported on sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, told CBS.

Of course, those who believe Depp was the victim of domestic abuse in the relationship had a different reaction. Speaking to ABC News, legal analyst Terri Austin said the verdict won't "set back other women" because abuse victims who come forward "won't be lying," and if "you are speaking the truth," legal commentator and YouTuber Emily D. Baker told Fox 11, "then this shouldn't set anyone back."

But the outcome may be "more meaningful for men who are accused of sexual assault" than for Depp himself, Puck national correspondent Eriq Gardner said on The Town podcast, as they can now point to this case as an instance "where the jury found that there was a liar." For that reason, it was a "big win for powerful men," legal commentator Areva Martin argued on CNN, and on Fox News, host Martha MacCallum said the verdict puts a "stake in the heart of the notion that you believe all women."

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