FAIRFAX, Va. – A jury was selected Monday to hear a long-anticipated libel lawsuit Johnny Depp filed against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, whom he accuses of falsely portraying him as a domestic abuser.
Depp sued Heard over an op-ed piece she wrote in The Washington Post in 2018 in which Heard refers to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” The article doesn't mention Depp by name, but he says it clearly refers to allegations Heard made in other forums that she suffered physical abuse at his hands. Depp denies the accusations.
The lawsuit brought a little bit of Hollywood to a courthouse that has a long history of dealing with high-profile crimes, just not those involving movie stars.
More than a dozen women, some waving signs saying “Justice for Johnny,” joined other fans who waved pirate flags in recognition of Depp's signature role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, waited outside the courthouse an hour before the hearing.
The courtroom in the city of Fairfax was closed to the public Monday, with limited closed-circuit access in an overflow courtroom. People lined up before 7 a.m. for the wristbands granting access. Both Depp and Heard were in attendance, but court personnel brought them in and out utilizing special access points that frustrated fans' ability to see them.
The judge overseeing the trial, Penney Azcarate, has imposed a series of access rules to try to maintain decorum in the courthouse. Most significantly, neither Depp nor Heard are permitted to pose for photos or sign autographs in the courthouse or on the courthouse grounds.
Depp's fans have been vocal in their support, saying he has been falsely accused. Raylyn Otey, a Depp fan from Bluefield, Virginia, drove five hours to see the movie star. She was disappointed when Depp did not greet fans personally, as sheriff's deputies carefully limited fan access.
“I'm so disappointed. I came to give him flowers to show some support,” she said, bouquet in hand.
In a separate lawsuit Depp filed against a British newspaper, a judge dismissed the case, finding that Depp assaulted Heard on a dozen occasions and put her in fear for her life on multiple occasions.
Heard has filed a countersuit against Depp that accuses his lawyers of defaming her at his direction.
Heard's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have the case moved to California, where the actors reside. A Fairfax judge ruled that Depp was within his rights to bring the case here because the Post’s online editions are published through servers located in Fairfax County. Depp's lawyers have said they brought the case in Virginia in part because the laws here are more favorable to their case.
A jury of seven, plus four alternates, was selected by Monday afternoon. The smaller jury is typical for civil trials in Virginia.
Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday morning. The trial is expected to last more than a month. A long list of witnesses includes actors James Franco and Paul Bettany, and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. Some witnesses are expected to appear in person, while others will testify via video link.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Raylyn Otey's last name.