Millions of people have watched Penney Azcarate, the chief judge of the Fairfax County (Va.) Circuit Court, as she has presided over the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard for the last six weeks.
Azcarate has maintained a low-key presence, accepting or rejecting evidence and occasionally admonishing witnesses to focus on the question. But the most consequential decision Azcarate made may have come weeks before the trial, when she allowed Court TV to operate two pool cameras in the courtroom.
Viewership increased exponentially as the trial went on, according to Law & Crime, which livestreamed the entire thing. When Depp took the stand on Wednesday, live viewership on its channel peaked at 1,247,163 — more than twice the peak during his initial testimony in April. And over the last several weeks, trial clips have become inescapable on social media, as mashups of Depp’s reaction shots have spread around the world.
Viewers have seen gruesome and often harrowing testimony, especially from Heard, who alleged that Depp had sexually assaulted her and attacked her to the point that she feared she would be killed. In her final appearance on the stand on Thursday, Heard said it was “humiliating” to relive those moments in front of cameras. Depp has denied Heard’s allegations and accused her of fabricating an elaborate hoax that destroyed his career.
Heard’s team tried unsuccessfully to exclude the cameras from the trial. At a pre-trial hearing on Feb. 25, attorney Elaine Bredehoft noted that there was already tremendous media attention as well as interest from “fearful anti-Amber networks.”
“What they’ll do is take anything that’s unfavorable — a look,” Bredehoft said. “They’ll take out of context a statement, and play it over and over and over and over again.”