Depp v. Meet the lawyers in the firing line of the Heard culture war

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  • Lawyers for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have been brought into the limelight in the high-profile defamation lawsuit.
  • Depp’s fans rallied behind his lawyer, Benjamin Chew, and defamed Heard’s lawyer, Benjamin Rottenborn.
  • Friends say Chew is a ruthless courtroom operator, and Rottenborn is a kind soul unaffected by drama.

On December 21, 2020, attorney Benjamin Chew saw the funnier side of life as he gathered evidence for his most high-profile client.

Actor Johnny Depp had recently instructed Chew to file a $50 million defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. take the case 2018 op-ed By Heard, in which Depp’s team argued that he was a victim of domestic abuse, which he said implied, although he did not name him.

In an email that day, Chew joked to Heard’s attorney, Ben Rottenborn, that he would get “charcoal in his sock” if he didn’t turn the documents over to the judge on time. In another, she said her dog Coco was furious at the arrival of her newest dog, Chewbacca. Harmless emails exposed As part of Depp’s lawsuit against the Sun newspaper in England because of an article calling him “the wife beat up”.

Two years later, the setting of their exchange changed dramatically. Chew and Rottenborn face one of the ugliest celebrity cases in recent history.

Depp v. The Heard trial began on May 2 and will conclude on May 27. Every moment was broadcast live.

The incident infuriated social media. Rottenborn and Chew got caught up in the drama, along with Depp’s fellow attorney Camille Vasquez and Heard’s fellow representatives Joshua Treece and Elaine Bredehoft.

Vasquez gained fandom because of Heard’s cross-examination and Depp’s intimate relationship, which he thought could be more than just professional cheerleaders. (The actor’s spokesperson said that their relationship was strictly professional.)

Chew and Rottenborn’s firms – Brown Rudnick and Woods Rogers, respectively – declined to comment, saying their employees would not speak to the media until the case was resolved. Representatives for Heard and Depp also declined to comment.

Depp’s fans rally behind his lawyer

From the start of the trial, Depp’s loyal fanbase rushed to his defense and took action against Heard and Rottenborn. Chew’s keynote received more than half a million views on YouTubeand compilation videos Showing an obvious friendship with Depp proliferated on social media.

A TikTok of the lawyer sent by the account @inlovewithbenjaminchewWithin days, it garnered more than four million likes. Similarly, a YouTube video titled “Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Shocked By Actor’s Impressive Doodle” quickly crossed five million copies.

However, Chew seems unaffected by his new situation.

The Washington DC-based attorney sat next to Depp throughout the trial and seemed relaxed and at ease. She hugged and shared laughter with the actor as she gnawed at the gummy bears neatly stacked on her desk.

Ben Chew, Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp speaks to his attorney Ben Chew in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, May 3, 2022.

via Getty Images Jim Watson/Pool/AFP


But as he stood up to speak, Chew’s cheerful demeanor faded and was replaced by ruthless professionalism, and his experience in the Great Law shines through.

“The thing that pushes people off about him is that he looks happy, but he’s actually a ruthless lawyer,” said Kristen Johnson, a lawyer who worked for Chew’s previous firm Squire Patton Boggs for nine years.

Johnson said it was no surprise that he was appointed by Depp as a seasoned litigator with more than 25 years of experience.

“He’s not afraid of anyone, so it doesn’t matter who is on the other side,” he said. “Probably gives him a boost to have a tough opponent.”

online trial

His rival, Rottenborn, struggled to win the online popularity war. Earlier in the trial, Depp fans caught up with an embarrassing mistake that has since become the defining voice of the case: Rottenborn. objection to own question While Depp is grilling.

The fallout was brutal. A Twitter account called “Ben Rottenborn Parody” began interpreting the underlined tweets about the case as “objection”. A YouTube video titled “Johnny Depp deals with Amber Heard’s lawyerTitled “More than 11 million views and another”Whole Court Laughs at Amber Heard’s Lawyer“Two million views.

“It’s been a meme,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who commented on the Court TV case, told Insider.

“That’s not what you should do. You need to take action to strike. You saw that he was a little exhausted and I think Depp pissed him off.”

Ben Rottenborn

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Amber Heard’s attorney, Ben Rottenborn, speaks in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, April 12, 2022.

Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP via Getty Images


But Chew won’t be shaken by his newfound fame, and criticism won’t scare Rottenborn off.

“He would have handled it better than anyone I knew,” said Jay O’Keeffe, a Virginia attorney who worked with and against Rottenborn. “Extraordinarily discreet.”

“I suspect no one here or at his company will be prepared for the level of backlash this case has received.”

But Rottornborn may not even be aware of it. Michael Fox, a Virginia-based neuroscientist and friend of Rottenborn’s, told Insider, “He’s not even a social media person. “I don’t even know if he knows what’s going on,” he said.

The toughest test ever

Chew is no stranger to being in the spotlight, having previously represented high-profile figures including Cher and two Olympic gold medalists.

But Chew is a DC guy through and through.

A graduate of the nearby University of Virginia Law School, Manatt cut his teeth in complex litigation cases for multinational giant law firm Squire Patton before moving to Phelps & Phillips in D.C. Brown joined Rudnick as a partner in the DC office in 2018.

Fluent in Spanish, Chew has worked in the governments of Guatemala, Ecuador, and Honduras, and has filed cases with the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court.

Before becoming a lawyer, Chew was introduced to Depp by a mutual friend, according to someone familiar with the relationship, which Insider gave anonymity to talk candidly.

chewing defended the actor in two breach of trust lawsuits in Los AngelesThe most recent one was concluded in 2019. Depp sues former executivesHe claimed they wasted their funds.

They filed a lawsuit against Depp, saying he was responsible for his poverty.


money management

. Ultimately, the parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

chew benjamin

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Johnny Depp’s attorney, Ben Chew, speaks to others in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, May 16, 2022.

via Getty Images Steve Helber/POOL/AFP


Rottenborn’s resume is similarly interesting.

A Stanford Law School graduate in 2006, Rottenborn began working as a clerk for an Arizona district judge but was soon hired by Kirkland & Ellis. largest law firm in the world by revenuein Chicago. He became a partner in 2012.

That same year, Rottenborn left town for the humble Virginia town of Roanoke in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rottenborn’s wife, a Stanford classmate, found a career opportunity there.

In Roanoke, Rottenborn joined Woods Rogers, a local law firm that, while respected, was far from the big hits at Kirkland & Ellis. Still, Rottenborn continued to attract prestigious clients such as Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Wells Fargo and now Heard. Last November, Rottenborn helped nine Charlottesville Unite the Right rally victims win $26 million in damages.

“It’s not normal to see someone representing Warner Bros. or Amber Heard from Roanoke,” O’Keeffe told Insider. “That alone tells you something about his talent.”

“He’s the kind of lawyer you’d meet in Chicago, DC or New York. So you noticed when he showed up.”

Two private men in a very public case

Former colleagues said that off the court, Chew loved jokes and didn’t take himself too seriously.

“He was really considerate of the people he worked with,” Johnson said, adding that after birth he gave him an engraved block with his son’s name and weight.

A friend and former colleague told Insider that Chew is also a family man. The person was also given anonymity for his frank speech.

Johnson said that Chew loves candy and brings gummy bears and M&Ms with him as snacks for long hours in court. A youtube video Titled “Johnny Depp and His Lawyer Chew Sugar Constantly During Court”, it had over 1.4 million views.

sugar i chew

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Benjamin Chew’s candy in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, May 3, 2022.

via Getty Images Jim Watson/Pool/AFP


He also has a love for flashy suits and anything with wheels. Colleagues fondly remember coming to the office singing show tunes, down the hill in either a Vespa or a teal Ford Thunderbird.

“Ben took my place in the world and is very comfortable there,” another person speaking on the condition of speaking in secret told Insider.

“He found a way to not just be a corporate knight,” the person said. “She’s still just Ben.”

Like Chew, Rottenborn is considered a kind soul. Both Fox and O’Keeffe praised him and said he did not deserve the attacks. “He’s one of the kindest, most generous people. He’s an introvert, quiet guy,” Fox said.

amber i heard rotte

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Amber Heard (C) stands in the courtroom with her legal team in Fairfax, Virginia, May 4, 2022.

Elizabeth Frantz/Pool/AFP via Getty Images


O’Keeffe added: “Thinking, intelligent, soft-spoken. Very, very reasonable. His style as a lawyer is pretty much the same. Not too much of a fuss.”

Rottenborn is also active and adventurous: He and Fox went to Ecuador a few years ago to climb volcanoes and are an avid runner and Little League coach in Roanoke. “He is often the first to volunteer to coach children’s athletic events and is generous with his time,” Fox said.

It’s clear that Rottenborn and Chew are respected and loved by their peers, but the high-stakes nature of their clients in the courtroom has left them at the mercy of the internet.

The popularity contest has shifted in Depp’s — and Chew’s — direction, but the case hangs in the balance with several days of questioning and the arrival of witnesses. Perhaps to Rottenborn’s advantage, the jury can’t see social media.

“The case has to be about evidence, but it’s about likability and credibility,” Rahmani said.

“You want to check the witness, but Johnny Depp did a great job checking Rottenborn.”

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