FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — The trial for actor Johnny Depp’s defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard could stretch out over the better part of a month – but not until May 2021, more than two years after the lawsuit was filed, a Virginia judge ruled Friday.
Depp’s contends he was wrongly accused of domestic abuse by Heard and demands $50 million in damages in a complaint filed in March 2019. For her part, Heard has filed a defamation counterclaim against Depp asking for $100 million.
The trial was set for Jan. 11, which coincides with the filming schedule for another installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series in which Depp will star, prompting his lawyers to request a continuance last month. But Heard, an actress who will also film an “Aquaman” sequel sometime next year, objected to the delay.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Chief Judge Bruce White made clear in a hearing Friday that his decision to push the trial start date to May 3 had nothing to do with the actors’ schedules, but with the backlog of court cases caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Right now, the Virginia Supreme Court has not authorized us to conduct jury trials,” White said.
Once the court gets the go-ahead, inmates charged with felonies will have priority. Even then, jury trials could demand multiple courtrooms to maintain social distancing.
A trial in the Depp case could last three weeks. And before lawyers get to the courtroom, they expect to take more than 50 depositions, according to court filings. Heard’s lawyers want to spend five full days deposing Depp.
Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, were married for 15 months, but their rocky union and divorce spawned lawsuits in the U.S. and Britain, where Depp has accused News Group Newspapers of libel. A trial in that case concluded last month and a verdict is pending.
In Virginia, Depp’s lawsuit contends that Heard was clearly referring to him when she wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in December 2018 describing the backlash she faced after speaking out about domestic abuse. She did not name Depp, but he claims she defamed him by implication. His complaint was filed in Virginia because the Post is printed there.
After unsuccessful attempts to have the case dismissed, Heard filed her counterclaim Aug. 10 charging that Depp “orchestrated a false and defamatory smear campaign” accusing her of being a liar, hoax artist and perjurer.
“This stream of false and defamatory accusations against Ms. Heard is all in an attempt to ruin her life and career simply because she was a victim of domestic abuse and violence at the hands of Mr. Depp, and had the audacity and temerity to finally come forward to end the abuse and violence,” the filing states.
Attorneys, along with Heard, attended Friday’s hearing virtually. Depp is represented by Benjamin Chew of Brown Rudnick in Washington, while Heard is represented by Elaine Charlson Bredehoft of the Reston, Virginia-based firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen and Brown.