TMZ tried to stop one of its former journalists from testifying in Johnny Depp’s trial against Amber Heard.
Former producer Morgan Tremaine appears ready to testify about obtaining a video of Depp yelling and trashing a kitchen.
The judge indicated Tremaine was prepared to testify without a subpoena.
The judge overseeing Johnny Depp’s trial against Amber Heard ruled that TMZ couldn’t stop one of its former journalists from taking the witness stand, handing Depp’s legal team a win.
Depp’s lawyers have planned to call Morgan Tremaine, a former TMZ journalist, to testify in the case. Tremaine is likely to testify about the source of a video published on the celebrity news website in 2016, which depicts Depp yelling at Heard and smashing cabinets. The video was played for jurors earlier in the trial, and Depp’s attorneys have suggested that Heard’s lawyers have maintained a close relationship with TMZ journalists.
Charles Tobin, an attorney representing TMZ’s parent company EHM productions, argued that Judge Penney Azcarate should quash a subpoena, issued on Tuesday, that would force Tremaine to testify in the case. He said that TMZ promised the source who gave it the video that their identity would remain confidential, and that it hasn’t waived that confidentiality.
“TMZ makes such promises of confidentiality, from time to time, so that it may publish information in the public interest, and it relies on the journalist’s privilege protecting the identity of confidential sources to do so,” Tobin wrote in the Tuesday night filing, reviewed by Insider.
Tobin also wrote that Tremaine wasn’t involved in obtaining the video and “lacks first-hand knowledge of the identity of the confidential source” who provided it and that any of his claims “would be based on rumor and conjecture.”
Furthermore, Tobin argued, permitting Tremaine’s testimony would put all reporters who want to protect confidential sources at risk.
“A news organization will have absolutely no control over being able to enforce its promises,” Tobin expounded in court Tuesday afternoon. “And so we would ask the court to permit us to intervene and to assert the privilege that belongs to TMZ.”
Azcarate, however, ruled that Tobin and EHM Productions didn’t meet the legal standards to intervene in the case, since TMZ’s arguments aren’t directly linked to the underlying defamation case. Depp’s lawsuit accuses Heard of defaming him by describing herself as a victim of domestic violence. TMZ’s complaints, Azcarate ruled, were about a “byproduct” of the lawsuit.
“Whether that breaches a non-disclosure agreement between Mr. Tremaine and EHM is not germane to this matter and can be litigated in a separate matter if EHM so chooses,” she said. “And while breaches of contract must be taken seriously, and the court does, any alleged breach is not germane to the underlying litigation here.”
Furthermore, Azcarate said, Tremaine appeared ready to testify even if he didn’t have a subpoena.
“In this case, it appears that the witness is willing to state the name of the confidential source without being compelled, voluntarily,” Azcarate said.
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