Judicial Notice (06.04.22): Verdicts
Depp v. Heard, United States v. Sussmann, and other legal news from the week that was.
There’s no place like home—but San Diego sure has amazing weather. I was there earlier this week to speak at the annual conference of their Federal Bar Association chapter, and I had a great time. Thanks to FBA-SD for the warm welcome, and thanks to Judge Patrick Bumatay of the Ninth Circuit for being such a delightful conversation partner for our “fireside chat” (sans fire).
My week was otherwise uneventful—so, on to the news.
Lawyers of the Week: Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez.
How many lawyers appear in YouTube videos that garner millions of views—even if the video features nothing more than the lawyer (and his movie-star client) chewing candy in court? How many lawyers are the subject of public calls to run for president, including t-shirts with the lawyer’s face on them? How many lawyers become celebrities in their own right?
The lawyer doing all the candy chewing is the aptly named Benjamin Chew. The lawyer being promoted for president is Camille Vasquez. And the two of them, along with their colleagues at the Am Law 200 firm of Brown Rudnick, scored a big courtroom win for their client, Johnny Depp.
After a six-week trial, a Virginia state-court jury found that Depp’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, defamed him when she described herself in a Washington Post op-ed as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” The jury awarded Depp $15 million: $10 million in compensatory damages, $5 million in punitive damages (but under Virginia law, the punitives will be reduced to $350,000). The jury also found that Heard was defamed by one of Depp’s lawyers in public comments about the couple’s disputes, awarding her $2 million. (Some observers, like trial lawyer Lisa Bloom, have flagged alleged inconsistency of the verdict as a possible appellate issue—but that can be a tough row to hoe, since reviewing courts try to read seemingly inconsistent verdicts to avoid inconsistency.)
The verdict has generated controversy, widely criticized for creating a chilling effect that could deter victims of domestic violence from coming forward. But it has been defended by some as justified by the specific facts of the case—i.e., many alleged victims are credible, but Amber Heard was not.
Regardless of one’s views on its larger cultural significance, the verdict is a career-making win for Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez. They secured an eight-figure verdict after a lengthy, high-profile, emotionally charged trial, which many legal experts didn’t expect them to win. (I was one such “expert,” predicting Depp would lose as the trial was getting underway and again after the close of evidence.)
Two quick updates on past Lawyers of the Week:
Ilya Shapiro will finally assume his role as executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center for the Constitution. After a four-month investigation (which conveniently ended shortly after students left campus for the end of the academic year), the school concluded that Shapiro wasn’t subject to its antidiscrimination and professional-conduct policies because he was not yet an employee when he issued a controversial tweet (a fact that was quite obvious before the initiation of the lengthy “investigation”). [UPDATE (6/6/2022, 2:19 p.m.: Actually, Shapiro just resigned from Georgetown Law; see this Wall Street Journal op-ed and his resignation letter.]
Todd Bank, of “Are you serious, Judge?” fame, just got sanctioned by a New York State appellate court. He was previously reprimanded by the Second Circuit for his “discourteous behavior” at oral argument.
Dean Browne C. Lewis of North Carolina Central University (“NCCU”) School of Law passed away unexpectedly on Thursday.
Scott Simpson, a longtime M&A partner at Skadden Arps, where he served as co-head of the global transactions practice, passed away suddenly at 65.
May they rest in peace.
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