Johnny Depp defamation trial: Amber Heard's personal assistant accuses actress of abusive work environment

Amber Heard's former assistant, Kate James, accused the 'Aquaman' actress of being 'verbally abusive' and underpaying her employees

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Amber Heard's former personal assistant accused the "Aquaman" actress of creating an abusive work environment in a videotaped deposition played Thursday during actor Johnny Depp's defamation trial against his ex-wife in Fairfax, Virginia.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 35, for $50 million over an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post alleging she was the victim of domestic abuse. Heard never identified Depp directly, but attorneys for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor say her allegations have negatively impacted Depp's career and relationship with his family.

In a deposition initially recorded in February, Kate James accused Heard, her former boss, of being "verbally abusive" and underpaying her employees.

Kate James, Amber Heard's former assistant, testifies via video during the $50 million defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia.

Kate James, Amber Heard's former assistant, testifies via video during the $50 million defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia. (Shawn Thew/Pool Photo via AP)

Heard would apparently bombard James in the middle of the night with text messages, James said.

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"Between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., the barrage would start," she testified. "That's what I would wake up to. All incoherent, not really making sense. Just someone to lash out at."

Heard allegedly "screamed" at James multiple times over the phone and once in person. During one confrontation over James' salary, Heard went berserk, the actress's former assistant said. 

Amber Heard sits in the courtroom as her former personal assistant Kate James testifies via video.

Amber Heard sits in the courtroom as her former personal assistant Kate James testifies via video. (Shawn Thew/Pool Photo via AP)

"She leapt up out of her chair, put her face approximately 4 inches from my face — she was spitting in my face, telling me, ‘How dare you ask me for the salary you’re asking for?’" the ex-staffer recalled.

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James described herself as grossly underpaid and said she was later fired because Heard said she could no longer afford her services. The combative ex-staffer also described Heard as "dramatic" and said she did not believe Johnny Depp abused his ex-wife, as Heard's attorneys have alleged during the trial.

"She paid me $25 an hour to start off with. And she finally agreed after screaming abuse at me that she would pay me $50,000 a year once I went to full-time. And this was after me working for well over ten years as a personal assistant," James said.

Johnny Depp looks over his shoulder during the defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia.

Johnny Depp looks over his shoulder during the defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia. (Shawn Thew/Pool Photo via AP)

The former assistant went on to testify that she never witnessed nor heard about any abuse against Heard from Depp.

"Just never had any evidence of it at all. I was there almost daily at both her place, then eventually at his place, and ultimately at the Lofts downtown," she recalled. "It was a daily basis experience morning, noon, night, all days of the week. So, you know, I mean I never once saw any evidence of anything."

A source familiar with the defense said James "appeared to be a disgruntled employee as a result of her being fired by Miss Heard."

"Further, her credibility is called into question, as she admitted asking Mr. Depp to be put on his payroll after her termination. She also contradicted her testimony from the UK on a number of occasions and admitted to not being truthful with what she testified, so how are we to believe anything she says?" the source said.

Amber Heard is seen inside the courtroom April 12, 2022, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Amber Heard is seen inside the courtroom April 12, 2022, in Fairfax, Virginia. (Brendan Smialowski/various sources/AFP)

Meanwhile, a source close to Depp said James "testified under oath her experience working in a troubling, under-paid and abusive work environment during her employment with Ms. Heard, stating she never once saw or heard anything related to allegations of physical violence between the two and in fact, suffered her own various forms of abuse at the hands of Amber."

"She also details incidents of abuse she witnessed and heard from Amber’s family members, including her sister and mother who was ‘terrified’ of her," the source said.

Heard's attorneys Benjamin Rottenborn and Elaine Bredehoft argued the opposite in their opening statements. 

Amber Heard speaks with her lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, at the Fairfax County Circuit Court, April 12, 2022, in Fairfax, Virginia.

Amber Heard speaks with her lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, at the Fairfax County Circuit Court, April 12, 2022, in Fairfax, Virginia. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP)

Both attorneys said evidence will be presented over the course of the trial showing how Depp allegedly abused Heard. 

DAY 2: DEPP V. HEARD TRIAL UNDERWAY, ATTORNEYS ARGUE ABUSE, MANIPULATION FROM BOTH PARTIES

Rottenborn said Tuesday that the actress will take the stand later on in the trial and detail the "graphic and horrifying terms" of her marriage with Depp. He mentioned one instance of alleged abuse in which Depp "kicked" Heard in the back on a private jet, calling the actor an "obsessed husband hellbent on revenge."

The attorney also told the jury: "You're going to see who the real Johnny Depp is — behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes. Because Johnny Depp brought this case, all of this is going to come out."

Johnny Depp smiles while sitting with his legal team on April 14, 2022, at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia. 

Johnny Depp smiles while sitting with his legal team on April 14, 2022, at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia.  (Shawn Thew/Pool Photo via AP)

Bredehoft also previewed graphic abuse allegations against Depp during her opening statements on Tuesday. Bredehoft described various allegations of abuse beginning in 2015 and ending before their marriage was terminated in 2017 that involved the actor allegedly "kicking," "punching" and throwing objects at Heard. The attorney also described Depp as "delusional" and "paranoid," claiming that he would drink and take drugs before allegedly "assaulting" Heard on various occasions.

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She said video and photo evidence of the alleged abuse will be shown to the jury over the course of the trial.

Dr. Laura Anderson, the couple's former marriage counselor, also testified Thursday and confirmed that she has seen bruises on Heard before. 

"[S]he rose to the challenge if he started first, which … in my opinion, that had been established throughout the relationship, that she fought as hard as he did," Anderson said.

Heard's legal team also argues that publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post describing herself as a victim of abuse, without naming Depp, was within her rights under the First Amendment.