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Celebrity chef Mario Batali goes to trial over woman’s #MeToo-era groping claim

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Celebrity chef Mario Batali, 58, is arraigned on a charge of indecent assault and battery at Boston Municpal Court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. May 24, 2019. David L Ryan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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By Nate Raymond and Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) -Celebrity chef Mario Batali went on trial on Monday over allegations that he forcibly groped and kissed a fan in the only criminal case to result from multiple #MeToo-era claims of sexual harassment and assault that helped fuel his downfall.

Dueling narratives emerged during opening statements in Boston Municipal Court. Assistant District Attorney Nina Bonelli said Batali drunkenly assaulted the woman, Natali Tene, in 2017 while posing with her for “selfie” photographs at a bar near Boston’s Eataly, the Italian market and restaurant he at the time part owned.

“She wanted to get a celebrity picture with a celebrity chef, the defendant,” Bonelli said in her opening statement. “Instead of just selfies, the defendant began groping Ms. Tene’s body.”

Anthony Fuller, the lawyer representing Batali in the non-jury trial on a 2019 charge of indecent assault and battery, said during his opening statement: “The defense in this case is very simple: This didn’t happen.”

Bonelli said Tene eventually came forward after a “barrage” of media reports concerning allegations by other women about sexually aggressive behavior by Batali, starting with a report in the food website Eater.com.

“When that media story first ran in December 2017, Ms. Tene realized it wasn’t an isolated incident,” Bonelli said.

Fuller, Batali’s lawyer, said Tene’s own photos and videos from that night showed that no assault occurred and argued that “self-serving, biased testimony” was simply to support a civil lawsuit she filed in hopes of a monetary settlement.

Fuller said her credibility was undercut by her text messages with a friend joking about the incident. When filling out a questionnaire for jury duty in an unrelated assault case, rather than say she was a crime victim to get out of jury duty, she falsely claimed to be clairvoyant, Fuller said.

If convicted, Batali faces up to 2-1/2 years in jail and having to register as a sex offender. While the case had been set for a jury trial, Batali waived his right to one and elected to have Judge James Stanton decide his guilt or innocence himself.

The case is one of a handful of criminal prosecutions of celebrities following the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, which exposed widespread patterns of sexual harassment or abuse of women in multiple spheres of American life.

Prosecutors said Tene came forward with her account after Eater.com detailed allegations by four women who said Batali touched them inappropriately over at least two decades.

The Eater.com report and others prompted Batali’s firing from the ABC cooking and talk show “The Chew,” and Batali later cut ties with restaurants like New York’s Babbo and Del Posto he partly owned. He denied allegations of sexual assault but apologized for “deeply inappropriate” behavior.

Batali and his business partner in July agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees to resolve claims by New York’s attorney general that their Manhattan restaurants were rife with sexual harassment.

Sports & General

Johnny Depp’s attorneys challenge Amber Heard on abuse claims

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Actor Johnny Depp reacts as he leaves for a recess during a defamation trial against his ex-wife, actor Amber Heard, at Fairfax County Circuit Court, in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., May 5, 2022. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS

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By Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) -Attorneys for actor Johnny Depp began their questioning of Amber Heard in the couple’s defamation trial on Monday and challenged the “Aquaman” star’s claims that she suffered physical abuse before and during their brief marriage.

Depp’s attorneys introduced photographs of Heard making public appearances on red carpets and “The James Corden Show” shortly after times that she said Depp had struck her with his hands, on which he usually wore heavy rings.

The pictures shown to jurors appeared to reveal no injuries. Heard said the harm, which included what she thought was a broken nose, was not severe enough to be visible or was covered up by makeup.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. Heard has countersued for $100 million, arguing that Depp smeared her by calling her a liar.

At the start of cross-examination of Heard, an attorney for Depp asked Heard if she had abused Depp and was further harming him with false allegations.

“I could never hurt Johnny,” Heard said.

Earlier, Heard told jurors that she filed for divorce from Depp in 2016 because she worried she would not survive physical abuse by him. She said she realized the relationship was beyond repair after he threw a cell phone that hit her in the face.

“I knew I had to leave him,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t survive it if I didn’t.

“I made the decision to file for divorce,” she added. “It was hard because I loved Johnny so much.”

The pair wed in February 2015 and their divorce was finalized about two years later.

Depp has testified that he never hit Heard and argued that she was the abuser in their relationship. He said she threw a vodka bottle at him in early 2015, severing the top of his right middle finger.

Heard said she did not cause the finger injury and said she only hit him to defend herself or her sister.

She also denied Depp’s allegation that she had left feces in a bed at one of his homes following a fight on her birthday. A security guard had testified that Heard told him the feces were a “horrible practical joke.”

Heard said she did not commit any prank that day, adding that she was “not in a pranking mood.”

“I had just been attacked on my 30th birthday by my husband, with whom I was desperately in love and knew I needed to leave,” she said.

The legal case centers on a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard that appeared in the Washington Post. The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear Heard was referencing him.

Depp, once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was put on hold, and Depp was replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spinoff.

Heard’s attorneys have argued that she told the truth and that her opinion was protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Closing arguments are scheduled for May 27.

Less than two years ago, Depp lost a libel case against the Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.

Depp’s lawyers filed the case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.

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Sports & General

Amber Heard says she feared she would not survive Johnny Depp marriage

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Actor Johnny Depp reacts as he leaves for a recess during a defamation trial against his ex-wife, actor Amber Heard, at Fairfax County Circuit Court, in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., May 5, 2022. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via REUTERS

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By Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) -“Aquaman” actor Amber Heard told jurors in a defamation case on Monday that she filed for divorce from Johnny Depp in 2016 because she worried she would not survive physical abuse by him.

Under questioning by her attorneys, Heard said she took the step after the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star threw a cellphone that hit her in the face. The incident made her realize the marriage was “falling apart” despite her attempts to repair it, she said.

“I knew I had to leave him,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t survive it if I didn’t.

“I made the decision to file for divorce,” she added. “It was hard because I loved Johnny so much.”

Jurors were shown photos of Heard with redness and swelling on her face that she said was caused by being struck by the phone.

At this point in their marriage, “the violence was now normal and not the exception,” Heard said.

In earlier testimony, Depp said he never hit Heard or any woman and argued that she was the abuser in their relationship.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. Heard has countersued for $100 million, arguing that Depp smeared her by calling her a liar.

The pair wed in February 2015 and their divorce was finalized about two years later.

Heard said Depp hurled the phone at her during an argument in May 2016 at a Los Angeles penthouse that he owned. The episode is one of several that Heard has described in which she said Depp assaulted her.

In his testimony, Depp said Heard was the violent one and in early 2015 threw a vodka bottle that cut off the top of his right middle finger.

Heard denied severing Depp’s finger and said she only hit him to defend herself or her sister.

She also denied Depp’s allegation that she had left feces in a bed at one of his homes following a fight on her birthday. A security guard had testified that Heard told him the feces were a “horrible practical joke.”

Heard said she did not commit any prank that day, adding that she was “not in a pranking mood.”

“I had just been attacked on my 30th birthday by my husband, with whom I was desperately in love and knew I needed to leave,” she said.

The legal case hinges on a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard that appeared in the Washington Post. The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear Heard was referencing him. The couple’s divorce was finalized in 2017.

Depp, once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new “Pirates” movie was put on hold, and Depp was replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spinoff.

Heard’s attorneys have argued that she told the truth and that her opinion was protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Closing arguments are scheduled for May 27.

Less than two years ago, Depp lost a libel case against the Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.

Depp’s lawyers filed the case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.

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Sports & General

‘Rust’ producer says movie will be completed – Hollywood Reporter

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The film set of “Rust”, where Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun, is seen from a distance, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S., October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File

(Reuters) – A producer of the movie “Rust,” whose set saw the fatal accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins last year, said the movie will be completed, the Hollywood Reporter reported on Monday.

Hutchins was killed https://reut.rs/3PoJbwM in October when a revolver that actor Alec Baldwin was rehearsing with during filming in New Mexico fired a live round that hit her and movie director Joel Souza. Souza was wounded but survived.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to complete the movie,” Anjul Nigam, one of the producers, was quoted as saying by Hollywood Reporter.

A representative of Nigam did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the state of New Mexico fined https://reut.rs/3FP8YcR Rust Movie Productions the maximum amount possible, $137,000, for what it called “willful” safety lapses leading to Hutchins’ death. The company said it disagreed with the findings.

Baldwin, also a producer on the film, has been named in several lawsuits filed in connection with Hutchins’ death, including one by her husband.

Baldwin, 64, has denied responsibility for Hutchins’ death and said live rounds should never have been allowed onto the set of the Western film at Bonanza Creek (NYSE:BCEI) Ranch.

The actor also has argued in court papers that an indemnification clause in his contract shields him from personal liability.

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