Johnny Depp Just Hired 'Making A Murderer' Lawyer Kathleen Zellner In Defamation Suit Against Amber Heard

By Jaimee Marshall··  9 min read
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A promising breakthrough has emerged in Johnny Depp’s $50 million defamation case against Amber Heard.

As previously reported, Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife Amber Heard for falsely characterizing him as an abuser in her 2019 Washington Post op-ed. While she doesn’t explicitly refer to him by name, she alludes to the abuse she previously accused him of, including repeated physical injuries, to obtain a temporary restraining order. 

Not only do Johnny Depp and his team deny these claims, but he also asserts that Heard has fabricated evidence, including photos of fake bruises, to construct an elaborate hoax against him and that she is the true abuser. Earlier this year, both Elon Musk and James Franco were subpoenaed to give evidence about Heard. Now, a new, high-profile lawyer by the name of Kathleen Zellner has been added to the mix.

Who Is Kathleen Zellner?

Court documents reveal that Kathleen Zellner has joined Johnny Depp’s legal team. Zellner is an attorney who specializes in overturning wrongful convictions. Her website describes her practice as follows: “Our team of trial lawyers concentrates on winning major civil rights violations, medical malpractice, prisoner abuse, criminal appeals, post-conviction, and habeas actions throughout the United States.” She’s prominently known as the lawyer representing Steven Avery in the Netflix true crime documentary series Making a Murderer

Avery was the subject of the show in 2015 and 2018. He was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 18 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. This led to his release in 2003. However, just two years later, he was charged with another murder and sentenced to life in prison. Zellner is actively working to have this conviction overturned

Another high-profile client of hers was Kevin Fox. Fox was falsely arrested under suspicion that he murdered his daughter Riley. Zellner was able to get him exonerated by convincing the state's attorney to accept a private lab with more sophisticated technology to test "inconclusive" saliva samples which excluded Fox with 100% certainty. After launching a civil rights case six weeks following Fox's arrest, Zellner won $15.5 million for the violation of Fox’s civil rights.

She took on the client Ryan Ferguson in 2005, choosing to represent him pro bono. Ferguson was wrongly imprisoned for murder for 10 years based on false witness testimony which was later recanted. Zellner successfully overturned the conviction and won a record $11 million verdict

A new court order states that the trial will be broadcast, as one camera will be permitted to record it.

So, in what ways is she valuable to Johnny Depp’s case, and what sort of difference can she make? Put simply – a lot. Zellner is a voracious and very successful lawyer who has not only won court cases but also successfully overturned verdicts. This is the most difficult accomplishment in law, especially when it comes to murder charges. In her 30 year career, she has righted more wrongful prosecutions than any other private attorney in the United States. She has won groundbreaking judgments and verdicts, including tens of millions of dollars in damages for all sorts of clients. Within a single year, she has won 5 multi-million dollar verdicts. All in all, she has exonerated 20 clients to date. 

Couple her determination as a lawyer and track record of success in overturning wrongful convictions with her commitment to only represent clients that she believes to have a good chance of winning their case and being innocent, and you can see what has Amber Heard so worried that she’s responded in kind with a newly hired lawyer of her own. 

And that’s not the only exciting news. A new court order states that the trial will be broadcast, as one pool camera will be permitted to record the trial.

Why Has Amber Heard Hired a Construction Lawyer?

Amber Heard has taken notice of Depp’s high-profile addition of lawyers to his team and has responded with a conspicuous choice – hiring a construction lawyer. According to court documents, Heard responded to Depp’s recent move by hiring attorney Karen M. Stemland just eight days later. Not much information is out there regarding Stemland's involvement other than her website, which states she focuses her practice on civil litigation, construction, real estate, energy, and commercial matters. This may seem like an odd choice, but if we turn our attention to "civil litigation," this starts to make more sense. 

Under litigation, we have found more information, which reads, "Our attorneys have experience in representing clients in arbitrations, mediations, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).” It continues, "Our goal is to resolve conflict early if it makes sense for you and, if so, how the provisions should be drafted." From this, we see Heard has hired a Virginia lawyer who has experience in handling civil litigation, specifically, in the form of ADR. This could suggest that Heard is hoping to settle out of court, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Amber Heard has hired a lawyer who has experience in handling alternative dispute resolution.

Even then, it’s an odd choice, considering Stemland’s area of expertise, even in the matter of litigation, is concentrated on real estate, not criminal law. She’s employed by Woods Rogers, the same law firm that has been representing Heard throughout this case, but it’s unclear why this particular lawyer has been added other than to send a message to Depp that she will retaliate against any legal moves he makes. 

The Evidence Being Questioned

To be honest, if I were to present every piece of questionable evidence in this case, it would take at least 300 pages of a single-spaced thoroughly detailed book. For the sake of brevity, let’s go over a few important claims made by Amber Heard that Depp’s team is aiming to disprove. Depp’s team must prove that Heard falsely defamed him. That is, she made claims of abuse about him that were untrue and which damaged his reputation and career. 

Central to making this case will be examining Heard’s so-called evidence of abuse, in which she claims that she was given two black eyes, a broken lip, a broken nose, and a broken rib after a physical altercation with Depp in Los Angeles that took place December 15, 2015. The day following the incident that she claims left her with two black eyes, she appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden, in which you can see that she has no facial injuries. She repeatedly makes very expressive faces and movements such as squinting her nose and eyes and other facial movements that would cause extreme pain if she indeed had a busted lip, nose, and black eyes. 

Following her appearance, she said to her stylist Samantha McMillan, “Can you believe I just did that show with two black eyes?” In McMillan’s testimony to the High Court last year, she said that she spent most of the day following the incident with Heard, stating “Ms. Heard did not have any black eyes, and had been visibly uninjured throughout the day and at that moment.” While Heard’s makeup artist claimed that was because she had covered up the bruises with concealer, it’s still not adding up how someone can make so many facial movements while having a broken nose and a busted lip. It also doesn’t explain why her stylist has stated that even when Heard was not wearing any makeup earlier in the day, she had no bruises.

10 days following this case of alleged physical abuse where she claimed to have broken ribs, she’s pictured frolicking in a bikini on the beach for a photoshoot. She’s photographed leaping into the air and laying stomach-first on the sand. A feat that should prove rather difficult just two weeks following the alleged breaking of her ribs. She’s also pictured going tubing alongside Depp. In the photographs, she doesn’t seem to be wearing any makeup and you can see no visible bruising. 

Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman tweeted before his account was suspended: “12/15/15 allegation ‘I had bruised ribs. Bruises all over my body, bruises on my forearms from trying to defend the blows. I had 2 black eyes. I had a broken nose. I had a broken lip’ Justice Nichols - I believe her. UK Appeals Court - we believe him. But oops ... PHOTO SHOOT!” Heard took notice of the tweet and responded, "Yes Mr. Waldman, I may be wearing makeup on this occasion but on every occasion you will still be short."

Another user commented, “I’d rather be short than an abusive gold digger.” To which Heard responded, “It’s good to be realistic with your goals.”

adam waldman amber heard photoshoot tweet 1
adam waldman amber heard photoshoot tweet 2

Twitter exchange between Waldman & Heard via The Daily Mail UK

While Heard claims here that she was wearing makeup in the photos, on the photographer's then-partner's Instagram, the caption reads "no make up hair or styling needed,” while another photo bears the caption “fresh faced.”

Closing Thoughts

Depp has won a bid to access Heard's phone records to prove that she fabricated evidence of injuries by doctoring photos. This plays just a small part in the damning evidence against Heard, including testimony from her ex-assistant claiming that she stole her sexual assault story, police showing up when Heard claimed to be assaulted and stating she had no bruises, and other eyewitnesses who have stated that they never witnessed Depp physically attack anyone but that they saw Heard repeatedly verbally berate, throw things at him, and physically attack him. 

With Zellner now added to his case, he has better chances than ever. She’s a passionate, articulate, and thorough attorney who exclusively takes on clients she believes are innocent and can win. With a camera now permitted to film the trial, the whole world will be watching. 

“I have spent the last 30 plus years defending individuals who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. I welcome adding Johnny Depp to that list and joining his dream team who share this view and have so effectively been advocating for him,” says Kathleen Zellner.

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