LONDON – A U.K. High Court judge ruled Monday that actor Johnny Depp violated a court order by failing to disclose evidence relating to his drug use to lawyers for British tabloid The Sun, which he is suing for libel.
Judge Andrew Nicol deferred a decision on whether to throw out Depp’s claim against The Sun as a result. He said he would rule as soon as possible.
Depp is suing the newspaper’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and Executive Editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article claiming the actor was violent and abusive to his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
Depp strongly denies being violent, and the emotionally charged case has drawn in celebrities including Depp's ex-partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder and Heard's former paramour Elon Musk.
The trial is due to open at the High Court in London on July 7. But The Sun’s lawyers argue the case should be dismissed because Depp failed to disclose text messages he exchanged with an assistant showing that he tried to buy “MDMA and other narcotics” while he was in Australia with Heard in 2015.
The newspaper’s lawyer, Adam Wolanski, said withholding the texts was a breach of a previous court order requiring Depp to provide all documents from separate libel proceedings against Heard in the United States. He said the lapse endangered the defendants’ ability to get a fair trial.
Judge Nicol ruled Monday that Depp had breached the disclosure order, and found that “the Australian drug texts were adverse to the claimant’s pleaded case and/or were supportive of the defendants’ pleaded case.”
He did not immediately throw out the case, allowing Depp’s lawyers to argue why the trial should go ahead.
Depp’s lawyer, David Sherborne, said it would be “wholly disproportionate” to scuttle the case.
“The central matter in dispute in these proceedings is whether or not the claimant committed multiple acts of serious unprovoked physical violence during his relationship with Amber Heard, causing her significant injuries and to be put in fear for her life,” he said. “It is now time for the defendants to have to prove what they published.”
In court last week, Wolanski read out passages of Heard’s evidence in which she claims she was subjected to “a three-day ordeal of physical assaults” by Depp while he took MDMA, also known as ecstasy, and drank heavily.
Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, met on the set of the 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary” and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. They divorced in 2017.
Each accuses the other of being abusive, and Depp is also suing Heard for libel in the United States.
At the High Court on Monday, Sherborne said Heard's claims were undermined by the fact that she had had affairs with Space X founder Musk and actor James Franco while she was involved with Depp.
“Given that her case is that she was controlled and abused by the claimant and that she could not possibly have left him, that does not sit at all with the fact that she was having multiple affairs," the lawyer said.
Depp and Heard are both expected to give evidence in person at the London trial, which was postponed from March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The socially distanced trial is scheduled to last for three weeks. Witnesses are likely to include Depp’s ex-partners Paradis and Ryder, who have both submitted statements supporting the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star.