Showing posts with label domestic violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label domestic violence. Show all posts

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Depp defamation suits in US, UK see London setback

Heard and Depp in 2015 (GabboT CC BY-SA 2.0)

Johnny Depp is fighting accusations of spousal abuse in defamation suits in England and the United States.  Apparently, I can't be disillusioned often enough about actors I like

At the excellent INFORRM blog, Kirsten Sjøvoll of Matrix Chambers (here) and University of Essex Law Lecturer Alexandros Antoniou (here) have the latest about Depp's suit in London, in which the defense of substantial truth has been asserted successfully.

Sjøvoll explained, "In this case, it was also not necessary for the Defendants to prove that each and every incident or allegation of domestic [violence] relied upon took place. It was enough for them to establish that it was substantially true that Mr Depp had been violent towards his ex-wife during the course of their marriage."

Outside the courtroom, Sjøvoll observed, "an army of Depp fans" have stated "strong views about the evidence via Twitter," including ridicule of Justice Andrew Nicol.  The case meanwhile has generated ample lurid detail in entertainment news about Depp's rocky relationship with ex-wife Amber Heard.

Post op-ed,
from Va. complaint
Sjøvoll and Antoniou wrote that truth was a risky defense strategy for defendant News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun.  When a defendant asserts truth under the 2013 UK Defamation Act, the defendant assumes the burden of proof by preponderance ("balance of probabilities").  Sjøvoll wrote:

A libel defendant who seeks to establish that the words complained of are substantially true takes a considerable risk that, if unsuccessful, the damages they may be liable for will be significantly increased. The costs of a trial in which the truth of the allegations are in issue are also likely to be much higher. Indeed, in the Depp case, it was notable that both parties instructed leading criminal counsel to conduct the cross examination of the key witnesses in addition to media law specialists. 

Depp has vowed to appeal, and Sjøvoll and Antoniou noted that he also is pursuing related defamation litigation in the United States.  Depp is suing Heard in Fairfax Circuit Court, Virginia, over a #MeToo op-ed she published in The Washington Post in 2018.  The op-ed did not refer to Depp by name, but Heard wrote about how she became "a public figure representing domestic abuse" at the time of her divorce from Depp.  The case is steaming through contentious discovery with a flurry of foreign subpoenas.

The case in London is Depp v. News Group Newspapers Ltd., [2020] EWHC 2911 (QB), Nov. 2, 2020.  The case in Virginia is Depp v. Heard, No. CL-2019-2911 (Va. Cir. Ct. Fairfax County filed Mar. 1, 2019).  HT @ Private Law Theory.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Conditions of criminal pretrial release shouldn't abate civil abuse prevention order, Mass. court rules

In a decision today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed and remanded a trial judge's refusal to extend an abuse prevention order.

The order meant to protect a woman who had testified to physical abuse by her husband, who blamed her for the premature birth of their daughter.  According to testimony, "[a]s she tried to nurse the baby, the defendant painfully grabbed at her breast"; he shoved the woman; he threatened her and the baby; and he called the woman "'a horrible mother because [she] wasn't fat enough and wasn't eating enough.'"  The man was charged with (criminal) assault and battery.

The trial judge refused to extend the abuse prevention order because he improperly considered conditions of pretrial release and involvement of the Department of Children and Families as duplicative of the order.  The court explained:

Conditions of pretrial release are within a judge's broad discretion, and the civilian victim has no right to be heard on the matter. Furthermore, conditions of pretrial release are terminated automatically when the criminal case is disposed.

For these reasons, conditions of pretrial release, even if they encompass the same conditions as an abuse prevention order, are no substitute for an abuse prevention order. The same reasoning applies to DCF involvement. DCF has no power to incarcerate a person for engaging in abuse of a household or family member. At most, DCF can take custody of a child and refer the matter to law enforcement....

Rather than rely on these factors, a judge should simply determine whether the plaintiff has shown "a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm[,]" ... or whether the plaintiff has "suffered physical abuse" or "past sexual abuse" and "an order [i]s necessary to protect her from the impact of that abuse." [Citations omitted.]

The ruling thus marks the significant differences among civil, criminal, and administrative processes, each with its separate aims, even when all three are implicated in a case of domestic violence.

The case is Vera V. v. Seymour S., No. 19-P-1674 (Mass. App. Ct. Aug. 28, 2020).  Justice Joseph M. Ditkoff wrote the opinion for himself, Justice Gregory I. Massing, and Justice Sookyoung Shin.

(U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Michael Means.)