The celebrity tabloid TMZ filed an emergency motion to block testimony by its former reporter who appeared on Johnny Depp’s list of anticipated witnesses for Wednesday.
“Journalists’ promises of confidentiality are vital to reporting the news,” TMZ’s attorneys wrote in a 7-page motion. “That is why the law strongly protects the ability of journalists to keep their promises. The Court should permit TMZ to keep the promise it made here.”
Morgan Tremaine, formerly of the celebrity tabloid, appeared on a list of anticipated witnesses before Depp’s rebuttal case began on Tuesday, in the actor’s defamation suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard.
“With this motion, TMZ seeks a protective order precluding Plaintiff from eliciting or Mr. Tremaine from disclosing TMZ’s privileged information during the testimony,” the emergency motion states. “TMZ is uncertain whether Mr. Tremaine is appearing pursuant to a trial subpoena. If he is, TMZ likewise requests that the Court quash the subpoena.”
Known for celebrity-related exclusives—even getting first wind of actress Betty White’s death this past New Year’s Eve—TMZ says in their motion that they got unpleasantly scooped on Tremaine’s anticipated testimony by Radar Online.
“According to the Radar Online report, [Depp] plans to elicit testimony from Mr. Tremaine regarding TMZ’s confidential source in an effort to ‘impeach’ the credibility of [Heard],” the motion states. “Mr. Tremaine was a field assignment manager with TMZ at the time the article was published, but no longer works for the company.”
During Heard’s testimony, she denied leaking a video of Depp yelling at her to TMZ, which claims that Tremaine has no knowledge about the source of the footage.
Depp and Heard’s trial has been taking place in a courthouse in Fairfax County, Va., where TMZ claims that state law protects journalistic privilege.
“Virginia courts recognize a privilege, rooted in the First Amendment, protecting the relationship between journalists and their confidential sources and preventing those confidential sources from being outed in discovery or at trial,” the motion states.
So does California law, TMZ notes, describing the Golden State as the site of their original newsgathering. The website notes that the evidence that Depp seeks would not appear to advance his defamation case, other than to attempt to undermine Heard’s credibility.
“Here, it appears that Plaintiff seeks TMZ’s confidential source information purely for purposes of impeaching the credibility of Defendant and not because the information has anything directly to do with the elements of the underlying defamation case,” the motion states. “As noted , an effort to obtain impeachment evidence for its own sake is insufficient to overcome the privilege, and the question of who provided a leaked tape to TMZ is irrelevant to the elements of defamation. The identity of TMZ’s source has no bearing on whether, for example, the statements Plaintiff is challenging are substantially true or whether Defendant acted with the requisite degree of fault.”
Depp’s lawsuit against Heard stems from a 2018 Washington Post op-ed under her byline. The editorial said that Heard “became a public figure representing domestic abuse” two years ago, when she publicly accused Depp of intimate partner violence in filing a restraining order. Heard countersued after Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman characterized her allegations as a “hoax.”
Depp’s rebuttal trial continues on Wednesday, when his supermodel ex-girlfriend Kate Moss is expected to testify.
Read the motion, below:
(Photo by JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
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