Amber Heard appealed the Johnny Depp defamation verdict, demanding a reversal or new trial and saying the outcome has a “chilling effect” on women speaking out.
In a Nov. 23 Virginia Court of Appeals filing obtained by PEOPLE, Heard, 36, and her new lawyers questioned the June 1 verdict, as well as why the trial was allowed to take place in Virginia instead of California. (Depp, 59, sued ex-wife Heard over her 2018 Washington Post op-ed that didn’t mention him by name, and the Post’s servers are located in Virginia.)
They also argued the trial shouldn’t have moved forward since Depp lost the his U.K. libel case against The Sun in November 2020 over the British tabloid calling him a “wife-beater.” That London court upheld the outlet’s claims as being “substantially true” and Heard testified to back up the claims. In March 2021, his attempt to overturn the decision was overruled.
Heard’s lawyers said in the documents: “The trial court also erred in overruling Heard’s demurrer, in which she argued that the challenged statements are non-actionable expressions of opinion and are not reasonably capable of conveying the alleged defamatory implication. That holding, if allowed to stand, undoubtedly will have a chilling effect on other women who wish to speak about abuse involving powerful men.”
At the highly publicized Virginia trial earlier this year, a seven-person jury found that Heard defamed Johnny in her op-ed about domestic violence, and he was awarded more than $10 million in damages. Additionally, Heard won one of her defamation counterclaims and was awarded $2 million.
Her lawyers suggested that the two verdicts contradict each other — and claimed the damages awarded to Depp “clearly is excessive given the narrow time frame for which Depp could recover.”
“To find in favor of Depp, the jury must have concluded that Depp did not abuse Heard and that Heard knowingly lied in accusing him of abuse. But, to find in favor of Heard, the jury must have concluded that Heard told the truth about being a victim of domestic abuse by Depp. Accordingly, the verdict against Heard cannot stand.”
Depp is also appealing, calling the counterclaim verdict “erroneous” in a filing last month.
His team made a case for why they feel Depp should not be held liable for comments made by his attorney. The statement in question was made by Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman to the Daily Mail published April 27, 2020, when he claimed Heard and her friends set up Depp by calling the cops with a “hoax” of abuse claims back in 2016. The jury found that Waldman was acting as an agent for Depp when making the comment.
In the court documents, published by Law & Crime Network, Depp’s legal team said despite an “emphatic favorable verdict” for Depp, “the trial court was confronted with a number of novel and complex legal and factual issues, and although the trial court decided the vast majority of those issues sensibly and correctly, a few rulings were erroneous.”
The documents added, “Ms. Heard presented no evidence at trial that Mr. Depp was personally involved in directing or making any of the three Waldman Statements. Indeed, Mr. Depp testified that he had never even seen the Waldman Statements prior to the filing of the Counterclaim in August of 2020.”
Depp’s team argued that “Mr. Waldman is an independent contractor, whose allegedly tortious conduct is not automatically attributable to Mr. Depp” and “no evidence of Mr. Waldman’s actual malice was presented at trial” by Heard’s legal team. They asked for a reversal of the verdict.
In August, a rep for Heard announced that the actress changed her legal team for the appeal. Elaine Charlson Bredehoft stepped down while Ben Rottenborn became co-counsel, and she hired David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown of Ballard Spahr to lead.
“When it comes to protecting the fundamental right of Freedom of Speech, we look at the jury’s decision — to paraphrase a famous quote — not ‘as the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.’ A different court warrants different representation, particularly as so much new evidence is now coming to light,” her rep said in a statement at the time.
Judge Penney Azcarate denied Heard’s request for a mistrial in July, and after Heard officially appealed the verdict, Depp’s legal team announced that they would also be appealing her countersuit verdict.
In a July statement about moving forward with the appeal, a spokesperson for Heard said they “believe the court made errors that prevented a just and fair verdict consistent with the First Amendment.”
“We are therefore appealing the verdict,” they added at the time. “While we realize today’s filing will ignite the Twitter bonfires, there are steps we need to take to ensure both fairness and justice.”
Responding to the development, a Depp spokesperson then said in a statement: “The jury listened to the extensive evidence presented during the six-week trial and came to a clear and unanimous verdict that the defendant herself defamed Mr. Depp, in multiple instances. We remain confident in our case and that this verdict will stand.”[via]