Camille Vasquez, one of the attorneys representing Johnny Depp in his defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard, cross-examined Ms Heard over the course of two days on 16 and 17 May.
The moment, which saw Ms Vasquez seeking to undermine Ms Heard’s credibility and her claims that Mr Depp sexually assaulted her and was violent against her, has been described as “often harsh” by Deadline, which noted: “Depp’s lawyers may have lacked an actual kitchen sink, but they tried to throw one figuratively at Heard today during further cross examination of the Aquaman actress in the $50m defamation trial.
“That strategy continued during the redirect, with Depp’s lawyers calling out ‘objection’ on almost every question by Bredehoft, about half of which Judge Penny Azcarte sustained.”
The Independent spoke to two attorneys about Vasquez’s cross-examination strategy, including its possible advantages and drawbacks.
Jesse Weber, an attorney and host on the Law & Crime network who has covered the case from the Fairfax County Courthouse, thought Vasquez was “impressive” and delivered “a very tight cross”.
Mitra Ahouraian, an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills, thought Vasquez “came in strong after a week off, which is to be expected.”
“Normally you don't have much time to prepare – maybe a day, maybe an hour – before you jump into cross-examination,” Ahouraian added. “Camille Vasquez had the advantage of over a week to prepare questions in response to Amber Heard's direct testimony and pivot her game plan based on the answers Heard gave. She had excellent control over Amber as a witness, keeping her on track with Depp's narrative, controlling her answers to keep her from veering off into areas outside of the story Vasquez wanted her to tell.”
There were some specific challenges in approaching Heard’s cross-examination.
“Any time you cross examine an alleged victim of domestic abuse, particularly sexual violence, you have to be delicate, but firm,” Weber said. “I believe Vasquez did that. In fact, at one point, she made it clear that she has to ask these tough questions because these are serious allegations.”
Ahouraian pointed out that “Heard had a week to prepare for cross-examination, to review her testimony and prepare for the questions her team knew would be coming her way.”
“This is not typical and certainly creates a more challenging witness on cross, but luckily for them Depp's team had the same amount of extra time to prepare,” she added.
Vasquez’s approach in cross-examining Heard was tonally strong, with the attorney at times interrupting Heard, smirking, or otherwise appearing to show irritation towards the witness. This is a double-edged sword when it comes to convincing the jury.
“You never want to turn the jury off,” Weber said. “The jury are human beings and as much as they are supposed to follow only the law and facts, they do take into account the behavior of attorneys. If an attorney becomes overly combative or arrogant or rude, that can be a problem.
“Vasquez appeared to be respectful of Heard but simultaneously she sought to tarnish Heard's credibility. It can be a tricky dance for an attorney. She didn't necessarily get Heard to confess to anything. However, through Vasquez’s pointed questions, quick comebacks, smirks, it may have left the jury with the impression that Heard’s stories are not adding up.”
Ahouraian said this strategy can often “[rattle] the witness, [distract] them from their answers and [create] a tension that makes it difficult for the witness to get their story out.”
“It can, however, cut both ways,” Ahouraian added. “A jury can get irritated with this line of questioning if they feel the real story is not coming out, or if they sense they are being manipulated. Camille Vasquez has to toe the line between being tough on Heard and likeable to the jury.”
Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for 27 May, after which the jury will deliberate.