After Camille Vasquez, one of Johnny Depp’s attorneys, completed her cross-examination of Amber Heard, she turned to her client and hugged him. The moment is immortalized in a photo summarizing the latest phase of Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia. Vasquez’s eyes are closed. Your smile is blissful. Her gold Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels bracelets shimmer under the courtroom overhead lights. Depp is seen from the back in a suit jacket, his hair in the sleek ponytail he’s sported since taking the stand himself as a witness – a departure from the earlier days of the trial, when he wore his chin-length hair down and Hollywood – messy.
It is an image of cognitive dissonance, an oddly peaceful snapshot of a contentious, often harrowing, process. The jury heard allegations of sexual assault and physical, verbal and psychological abuse. Depp’s fans have gained momentum in person and online, where proceedings may seem inevitable. Lawyers and experts have expressed concern about how the process will affect victims of domestic violence and their perceptions.
In the six weeks since the trial began, Vasquez has become one of the most prominent figures among the case’s supporters. Depp’s fans have given her the online attention normally reserved for actors and singers. There were celebratory tweets and Instagram fan accounts. Depp supporters have been known to wait outside the courthouse hoping to catch a glimpse of Vasquez and possibly get their own hug. Following Vasquez’s cross-examination of Heard, a meme portrayed the attorney as Thor, the god of thunder, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in Marvel films.
Vasquez, an associate at a law firm in Irvine, California, is described in her professional biography as focusing on plaintiff defamation lawsuits (which fits Depp’s situation in the Virginia case). She lists additional experience in contracts, tort and labor claims, as well as crisis communications and reputation management. She previously worked for a company in Los Angeles and is a graduate of the University of Southern California and Southwestern Law School.
During the Depp v. Heard case, Vasquez first came to prominence as a frequent objector during testimony, particularly when Depp and Heard themselves took the stand. Heard’s cross-examination, which took place between May 16 and 17, brought her further into the internet limelight. Google Trends, a tool provided by Google to measure the popularity of various search terms over time, shows that search interest for the words “Camille Vasquez” skyrocketed from May 16-18. (Google Trends uses an index where 100 indicates the highest popularity for a search term, and 0 means there wasn’t enough data to analyze. Search interest for the query “Camille Vasquez” increased from one between May 15 and 16 to 28 further rose to 59 on May 17 and 100 on May 18.)
A search for Vasquez’s name on Instagram turns up a handful of fan accounts. Camillevasquezofficial, described as a “support page for Mrs. Camille”, has 34,400 followers. His contributions, the oldest of which dates back to May 7, consisted mostly of photos and video clips of Vasquez around the courthouse. There are other, smaller sites including Camille_vasquez_law_passionate, Camille_vasquezz, _camille_vasquez_ and Camillevasquez_official. (None of these appear to have any official affiliation with Vasquez and are present as traditional fan pages.)
With the exception of Camillevasquezofficial, none of these Instagram profiles have a large following, but the fact that they exist at all is remarkable. Advocates rarely, if ever, intersect with fan culture in this way or to such an extent. Lawyers representing famous parties in high profile cases can achieve a certain level of notoriety – their names will be known, they might do some media interviews. But their clients’ fans don’t usually start treating them like celebrities. (Donna Rotunno, an attorney who represented Harvey Weinstein during his 2020 criminal trial, achieved legal fame at the time, but a query of her name returns no fan account. Gloria Allred, who has represented clients against famous defendants such as Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and R Kelly, also don’t appear to have fansites on the platform.) On TikTok, the self-proclaimed “Stan account” (a fansite) Camillevasquez has 102,400 followers. Two other fan accounts have 14,300 and 9,849 followers, respectively. The hashtag #Camillevasquez has 944 million views on the platform.
It seems impossible to separate Vasquez’s newfound fame from the online culture surrounding the trial, which has become so pervasive as to seem ubiquitous. Memes and online clips mocking Heard reveal the “deep hatred” and distrust of women, experts told The Independent. Some have tried to cash in on the trial by selling merchandise that expressed anti-Heard sentiment. A recent report by NBC News spoke of six content creators whose content was previously unrelated to Depp or Heard, who have now focused on creating content about the process. According to NBC News, it has “reached millions of viewers on YouTube and TikTok.”
Johnny Depp and Camille Vasquez at the Fairfax County Courthouse on May 19, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia
(SHAWN THEW/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
That level of fame had real-life ramifications for Vasquez, beyond the gangs of Depp fans waiting to catch a glimpse of her as she exited the courthouse. On May 18, a photographer was overheard in footage released by TMZ asking Vasquez about online rumors that she and Depp may be dating. Vasquez laughed and declined to answer further. TMZ previously reported that the rumors are untrue and the two are “definitely not dating,” citing “sources connected to Camille Vasquez.”
Instead, a body language expert suggested to The Daily Mail that Depp and Vasquez’s relative physical closeness could be a strategic move to make Depp look like a “romantic hero”. “For Depp’s loyal fans, these dramatic rituals will seem like a confirmation,” Judi James told the newspaper. “‘If this smart, beautiful woman thinks he’s fine, then maybe he is,’ will be the implicit message.”
Vasquez is not the first American attorney to rise to legal fame. David Boies, Alan Dershowitz and Johnnie Cochran come to mind. The phenomenon is old enough to have been the subject of some legal literature. Search online for “celebrity attorneys” and you’ll find no shortage of listicles and blog posts on the challenges faced by famous attorneys, along with more academic writing. A 2012 article by Florent Bonaventure in the French history journal Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire traces the rise of famous lawyers into the 1920s and links it to “the emergence of mass media, the birth of a ‘celebrity culture’ and a general fascination with crime and criminals”.
Johnny Depp and Camille Vasquez at the Fairfax County Courthouse on May 18, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia
(KEVIN LAMARQUE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
In a 2003 article in the New York Law School Law Review entitled Celebrity Lawyers and the Cult of Personality, law professor Richard K. Sherwin also made a connection between celebrity attorneys and the consumption of litigation as entertainment. “The lawyer-celebrity has become a willing participant in the mutually assured seduction that takes place between television journalists and producers and the legal experts, hosts and film personalities who help make entertainment king,” he wrote.
According to Sherwin, not only does a famous attorney influence trial coverage, but they can also shape courtroom proceedings and lead them to sensational moments. “We’re a long way from that [French political scientist Alexis de] Tocqueville’s admiring account of attorneys in America championing prudent restraint against the majority,” he continued. “Rather than serving as a deliberate brake on popular passions, famous lawyers are now more likely to appear in the roles of high-profile media agents who artificially amplify emotion and spectacle.”
The trial of Depp v. Heard is expected to be completed in late May or early June: Closing arguments are scheduled for May 27, after which the seven-member jury will deliberate. Depp, who alleges that Heard defamed him in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post, in which she described herself as “a public figure who represents domestic violence,” is seeking $50 million in damages. Heard has filed a countersuit alleging he organized a “defamation campaign” against her and has called his own lawsuit a continuation of “abuse and harassment.” She has demanded $100 million in damages and immunity from her ex-husband’s allegations.