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Judge rules that TMZ can't block one of its former journalists from testifying in Johnny Depp's trial against Amber Heard

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Johnny Depp amber heard
Johnny Depp during his defamation case on Wednesday.REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool
  • TMZ tried to stop one of its former journalists from testifying in Depp's trial against Amber Heard.

  • The judge overseeing the trial permitted the former TMZ employee to testify.

  • He testified that TMZ was tipped off about Amber Heard's court appearances.

The judge overseeing Johnny Depp's trial against Amber Heard ruled early Wednesday afternoon that TMZ couldn't stop one of its former journalists from taking the witness stand, handing Depp's legal team a win.

The testimony from the former journalist, Morgan Tremaine, later in the day established that the celebrity-news publication had been able to publish exclusive photos and videos of Heard during the early stages of her contentious divorce from Depp based on tips it received about her whereabouts.

Charles Tobin, an attorney representing TMZ's parent company, EHM Productions, sought to stop Tremaine's testimony. He told Judge Penney Azcarate, who's overseeing Depp's trial against Heard, that he anticipated Tremaine would testify about the source of a video published on August 12, 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.

Tobin said 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 the publication hadn'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, which was 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 said, 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 said 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."

Tremaine testified that TMZ was tipped off about an Amber Heard court appearance

Azcarate, however, ruled that Tobin and EHM Productions didn't meet the legal standards to intervene in the case, since TMZ's arguments weren'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 in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. TMZ's complaints, Azcarate ruled, were about a "byproduct" of the lawsuit.

"Whether that breaches a nondisclosure 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.

Tremaine took the stand later Wednesday afternoon. He ultimately did not name the source of the video, saying he had no firsthand knowledge of it because it was sent to TMZ through a tip line.

"We downloaded it and then were instructed by the news producer to do what we call 'slap bumpers and a bug on it,' which is putting the 'dun dun dun' at the beginning," Tremaine said, sounding out the signature TMZ noise in the beginning of their videos, "and putting a translucent watermark over it, which indicates copyright ownership."

morgan tremaine johnny depp amber heard trial
Morgan Tremaine, a former employee of the news organization TMZ, on Wednesday.REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

But Tremaine said other news producers at TMZ were tipped off about two of Heard's appearances in court.

The first was earlier in 2016, on May 27, when she filed for a temporary restraining order against Depp. Tremaine said he dispatched paparazzi to stay outside the Los Angeles courthouse based on the tip to capture photos of Heard. Tremaine maintained a staff of about 40 paparazzi in the city, he said.

"Their objective was to capture her leaving the courthouse, and then she was going to sort of stop and turn towards the camera to display the bruise on the right side of her face, the alleged bruise," Tremaine said.

Heard previously testified she was caught off guard by the presence of the photographers.

Another news producer also received a tip about Heard arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on August 12, for which Tremaine also sent a photographer. He did the same again at the courthouse for a deposition Heard was scheduled to give the following day in support of the restraining order, he said.

On cross-examination, Elaine Bredehoft, an attorney for Heard, suggested Tremaine was looking for "15 minutes of fame" through his last-minute testimony at the trial.

"I stand to gain nothing from this. I'm actually putting myself kind of in the target of TMZ, a very litigious organization," Tremaine said. "I'm not seeking any 15 minutes."

He added: "I could say the same thing by taking Amber Heard as a client for you."

This article has been updated with Tremaine's testimony.

Read the original article on Insider