What Lies Ahead in Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's Court Hearing over Restraining Order: Your Questions Answered
PEOPLE consults with legal experts to find out what to expect from Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's upcoming court hearing
What could happen? What’s really going on behind the scenes? PEOPLE consulted two legal experts, L.A. certified family law specialist Steve Mindel and certified family law specialist Atousa Saei, to help explain the process and the specifics of what will be addressed during the hearing.
Will Depp testify?
“Restraining order hearings are trials,” Mindel tells PEOPLE. “Family law, because of the nature of our practice, is a million little mini hearings and trial. One of the things that requires live testimony is a restraining order hearing. If you want to present your side, you have to present your side in the form of live testimony.”
Adds Saei: “At the upcoming hearing, the matter might be continued [rescheduled at a later date] or it may move forward with the testimony of both Amber and Johnny, plus whatever witnesses each side calls. He is a party to the matter, and so long as Amber calls Johnny as a witness in her case in chief, he will have to testify.”
Will Depp have to address Heard’s accusations of domestic violence?
“That’s going to be the only thing the trial is about,” says Mindel. “The trial on a restraining order is only about the restraining order: Why should the court protect you? Why should you be protected? Depp can take the 5th, but if he takes the 5th or doesn’t take the stand at all, there won’t be any other testimony to contradict Heard’s testimony.”
Saei notes that if Depp chooses to plead the 5th at any time during the hearing, he has to be very careful and aware of his body language. “It is important to remember that this a family law court room and the court may infer almost anything from body language, facial expressions, demeanor, tone, as well as the way a witness answers questions to make its decisions,” says Saei.
What is the likely outcome?
“The judicial officers are given a lot of flexibility,” says Mindel. “They can issue a temporary restraining order for a specific period of time – one year, two years, etc. The judicial officer could temper their order based on what they believe the parties are going to do. Johnny Depp’s side is going to question Heard, ‘Has he contacted you? Has he done this or that?’ And ‘Is he complying with the restraining order?’ If she says ‘Yes,’ then that’s going to go in his favor toward a shorter restraining order. On the other hand if he’s been text-messaging her or trying to contact her though her mother or brother, sister or cousin and trying to go around the restraining order, then the court is going to extend the restraining order for a longer period of time.”
Could they settle beforehand or reach an agreement?
According to Mindel, this is the million-dollar question ahead of the hearing. “Any time the judges can get the parties to settle, the judges would like them to settle,” says Mindel. “That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if everybody amps up and they go to court and they’re all ready to go and the judge says, ‘You know, I’m going to send everybody down to the Daily Settlement Officer.’ We have lawyers that act as what we call the DSO in the court system in L.A. County, we volunteer our time and there’ll be a DSO down there on that day. For something like this, we have another group for complex issues, and that settlement officer might be in the court that day and the court will maybe send them down to the DSO to see if they can’t come to a resolution.”
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What’s behind Depp and Heard’s respective legal strategies?
Saei praises Depp’s legal tactics thus far, led by his attorney Laura Wasser. “Johnny staying quiet is smart,” she says. “He does not want to give away his defense ahead of time, because if he does, Amber’s side will have more time to prepare.”
But Heard’s attorney Samantha F. Spector has also played the pre-hearing game smartly. “It’s a good strategy as it places pressure on Johnny to give more to settle since his name is at stake,” Saei says.
Adds Mindel of Team Heard: “It wouldn’t shock me if they resolved this whole thing before Friday,” he says. “My inclination is that they’re launching missiles across the bow of Johnny Depp’s boat to let him know that they want something that Johnny Depp is not willing to give them. What that something is, I can’t tell you. It’s clearly not money because she’s going to get tons of money. There’s something behind all this. I don’t know what her motivation is behind the restraining order, because she’s going to get plenty of money, she doesn’t need the restraining order circus to get money.”