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In Depp-Heard trial’s final days, a parade of rebuttal witnesses

Amber Heard attends the ongoing defamation trial between her and ex-husband Johnny Depp on Tuesday at the Fairfax County Courthouse. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The notoriety of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial offered a peculiar twist Tuesday afternoon, when both sides were given the chance to question and challenge a potential witness that Depp’s lawyers had planned to call for rebuttal testimony because he had seen some of the trial.

Outside the presence of the jury, Morgan Night said that he had seen a clip of testimony from the trial about Heard and Depp’s 2013 trip to Hicksville, a luxury trailer park he owned in Southern California — and that the testimony was incorrect. He had also previously tweeted in Depp’s defense in response to a tweet by a user named Umbrella Guy.

Witnesses are instructed not to follow a trial in which they’re going to testify, which also means they aren’t allowed in the courtroom before giving testimony. Night, however, did not become part of the case until after it began and, as Judge Penney Azcarate said, “the problem is the courtroom in this particular case appears to be the world.”

The trial, taking place in the Fairfax County Courthouse, centers on a 2018 op-ed Heard published in The Washington Post, which alleged domestic abuse from an unnamed person. Depp denied he ever physically abused Heard and sued her for $50 million, claiming the piece has damaged his career. She countersued him for $100 million after his lawyers said her allegations were fabricated.

Night was deemed a credible witness after he explained he has “been keeping off the Internet” once he became involved with the plaintiff’s case. He was present the night Heard and Depp vacationed at Hicksville, during which the couple got into an argument and, Heard said in previous testimony, Depp performed a body cavity search on her in a jealous rage.

Night, though, said Heard seemed annoyed throughout the evening. While he testified that Depp became increasingly inebriated, he said he witnessed an argument between the couple, and Depp “was kind of cowering and seemed almost afraid,” which was “odd to see.” He added that he did not witness a physical altercation between the two.

During cross-examination, Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft attempted to paint Night as an attention-seeking follower of Depp’s who wanted to be on television. The court erupted in a rare bout of laughter when Night insisted he was not a fan. “I’m happy to tell what I saw, and that’s the extent of it. I don’t really care,” he said on redirect.

Tuesday’s proceedings began with a probable preview of closing arguments in the trial, which are expected to begin Friday morning.

Azcarate heard — and denied — the plaintiff’s motion to strike Heard’s countersuit, which revolves around three statements by Adam Waldman dismissing Heard’s claims as false. Depp attorney Benjamin Chew argued that Waldman did not act with actual malice, as he believes “and will believe to his dying day” that Depp did not abuse Heard. He accused the defense of “gamesmanship” and “word games” and claimed there is no evidence of abuse.

Defense attorney Benjamin Rottenborn argued that the defense provided plenty of corroboration of Heard’s claims of abuse, saying, “there was no hoax.” Furthermore, he argued, “when Mr. Waldman made those statements, he was standing in the shoes of Mr. Depp. They are one in the same for the purpose of those statements.”

Depp’s lawyers spent most of the rest of the day presenting the jury with rebuttals to Heard’s expert witnesses by calling their own. Walter Hamada, president of DC Films, said Heard’s compensation for “Aquaman” and its upcoming sequel was not affected by anything said by Depp or Waldman. He also said the studio briefly considered — and ultimately decided against — recasting her role because she and lead actor Jason Momoa lacked “natural chemistry.”

David A. Kulber, the hand surgeon who reconstructed Depp’s injured finger in March 2015 after it was injured during a fight between Heard and Depp said the actor wore a “bulky” plaster splint after the surgery and would probably have trouble grabbing someone or forming a fist with that hand. On cross-examination, he admitted Depp could grab someone with his other hand. (How his finger was injured remains a point of contention.)

Richard Marks, a Hollywood attorney, was called by Depp’s team to counter testimony given on Monday by Kathryn Arnold, an entertainment consultant, who was called to the stand by the defense. Marks said Arnold’s projections of Heard’s potential earnings after “Aquaman,” which the defense claims were hurt by Waldman’s statements, were vastly inflated: “[Arnold] knows something about our business, but not about negotiating deals,” he said.

During cross-examination, Marks could not remember ever negotiating a deal for a superhero movie, nor could he name an actress who appeared in a prominent role in a superhero movie and was not later cast in another studio movie.

Forensic accountant Michael Spindler was also asked to discredit Arnold’s testimony, calling it “not adequately supported” and “unreasonable” and arguing that she used a mix of methodologies to predict Heard’s potential earnings.

Both Spindler and another witness, social media forensic expert Doug Bania, took issue with actors Arnold had called “comparable” to Heard’s potential career track — including Gal Gadot, Ana de Armas and Zendaya — by showing, among other things, the higher “Q scores” and social media followings of those actors when compared with Heard.

Psychiatrist Richard Shaw was called to rebut the testimony of David Spiegel, a Virginia psychiatrist who testified that “Depp had behaviors that were consistent with substance-use disorder and intimate partner violence.”

Shaw testified that Spiegel violated the Goldwater rule, which is an ethical guideline issued by he American Psychiatric Association stating that psychiatrists should not render public opinion about the mental state of public figures.

The day concluded with two short testimonies concerning Heard’s charitable donations. Jennifer Howell, a former friend of Amber Heard’s sister, Whitney Henriquez, and the founder of a nonprofit organization called the Art of Elysium, testified that Elon Musk made a donation of $250,000 on Heard’s behalf to her organization. Candie Davidson-Goldbronn, a representative for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, testified that Heard has not yet donated the $3.5 million she pledged to the organization.

Testimony is scheduled to continue on Wednesday.

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