Q&A: Everything you need to know about the verdict and what it means after Johnny Depp won defamation trial against Amber Heard
Johnny Depp yesterday won his libel case against former spouse and fellow actor Amber Heard, marking the culmination of a blockbuster trial which has captured attention around the globe.
But many questions remain following the delivery of the verdict which saw the jury in Virginia award Depp $15million in damages.
Can Heard appeal the decision? How will she pay? Why did Depp himself lose his defamation case against British newspaper in 2020? And will either of their careers ever be the same again?
Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about the trial and an explanation of what happens next.
What is the case about?
The dramatic saga began when Depp, 58, filed a $50million defamation claim over a 2018 op-ed Heard wrote for The Washington Post, in which she appeared to allude to him when she described overcoming domestic abuse and violence.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star claimed his ex-wife defamed him in the op-ed which caused him to lose movie roles and other Hollywood jobs.
Heard in turn countersued for $100million, claiming she had been falsely painted as a liar by Depp’s camp.
What did the jury find for Depp?
After less than three days of deliberation, the jury in Fairfax County, Virginia ruled in favor of Depp’s defamation claims against Heard, finding that she had falsely and knowingly accused him of domestic abuse in her 2018 op-ed published in the Washington Post.
All three of the following statements made by Heard in reference to Depp were deemed to be defamatory:
- ‘I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change’
- ‘I became public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out’
- ‘I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse’
The actor was awarded $15million – $10million in compensatory damages and $5million in punitive damages.
The judge later capped the punitive damages at the Virginia maximum of $350,000, knocking down the total to $10.35million.
Depp will ultimately walk away with $8.35million from the trial after the jury awarded Heard $2million in compensation.
What did the jury find for Heard?
Heard won just one of her three countersuit claims, which were related to statements made by Depp’s former attorney Adam Waldman in 2020 which he described her abuse allegations as a ‘hoax’.
The jury dismissed two of the three claims, but found that Depp, through Waldman, had defamed Heard on one count when he suggested she and her friends had trashed the apartment they shared before calling the police.
This statement made by Waldman was deemed to be defamatory:
‘They set Mr. Depp up by calling the cops but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.’
She was awarded just $2million in compensatory damages out of the $100million she was seeking.
But she was awarded zero dollars in punitive damages.
Heard will now be required to pay Depp a total of $8.35million – the $10.35million awarded to Depp minus the $2million she was given in compensation – should he decide to execute the judgment.
Johnny Depp is pictured signing his statement following the verdict
Johnny Depp is pictured with a fan at a pub in Newcastle where he was drinking with musicians Jeff Beck and Sam Fender following the verdict in his favor
Amber Heard hugs her attorney Elaine Bredehoft after the verdict was read at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va, Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Depp was seen with Sam Fender and Jeff Beck yesterday in Gateshead
Can Heard appeal the verdict?
Heard’s spokesperson Alafair Hall confirmed late last night that the Aquaman star does intend to appeal the verdict handed down by the jury yesterday, but is not clear on what grounds she plans to appeal.
To be granted an appeal, Heard would likely need to demonstrate that there were errors in the trial, or in the presiding judge’s reading of the law.
She would also need to post bond of the full $10,350,000, plus interest charges over the course of an appeal trial.
This means it is highly unlikely Heard will be able to deliver on her promise to fight the verdict without considerable financial backing.
How will Heard pay?
Heard’s financial situation is not known, although she confirmed during the trial she was paid $1million for Aquaman and $2million for her involvement in the sequel, with bonuses based on the movies’ performances at the box office.
But testimony at the trial has raised questions about whether her pockets are deep enough to fork out the $8.35million she is now required to pay her former husband.
Heard admitted during the trial she was unable to donate $7million to charity after her divorce from Depp in 2017, because her ex-husband had filed a $50million lawsuit against her.
‘I still fully intend on honoring all of my pledges,’ Heard said regarding the money she had pledged to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
However, Depp’s lawyers pointed out she had received her divorce settlement months before he announced he was suing her and questioned whether she ever planned to donate the money in the first place.
If Heard can’t fulfill her obligation to pay, the court may choose to garnish her future wages, but the outcome of the trial means she is unlikely to be cast in any starring roles in the near future.
Heard could also file for bankruptcy with would likely wipe away the $8million in compensatory damages but she could still be forced to pay $350,000 in punitive damages.
Depp is seen leaving a hotel in Kensington yesterday before heading to Newcastle
Actor Amber Heard and her attorneys Elaine Bredehoft and Benjamin Rottenborn looks over to the jury just before the verdict was read at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va, Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Why did Depp win his defamation case in the US but lose in the UK?
Depp lost a libel case against a British newspaper in 2020 after the publication labeled him a ‘wife beater’, leading many to question how he managed to win a libel case against Heard over claims of domestic abuse just two years later.
Plaintiffs suing for defamation in the US also have a greater burden of proof and must show that they were harmed by a party acting ‘with actual malice’ – i.e. the plaintiff must prove the respondent knew their defamatory statement was untrue when they made it.
One explanation offered by legal experts is that the British case was decided by a judge as is customary for most civil defamation cases in the UK, while the verdict in the US was delivered by a jury.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens told the Washington Post that Depp’s legal team deployed a strategy designed to sway juries that are not legally trained, arguing the approach would likely not have worked had the US case been tried by a judge.
He said the strategy known as DARVO — an acronym for deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender — managed to convincingly paint Depp as the victim in the eyes of the jury.
Furthermore, although members of the jury were ordered not to read about the case in the news or social media, they were not sequestered and were free to come and go as they pleased when the court was not in session, meaning they were almost certainly exposed to content concerning the case – much of which on social media was pro-Depp.
Depp’s lawyers Camille Vasquez and Ben Chew arrive to give a statement to the press outside of Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, VA, on Wednesday, June 01, 2022
Members of Johnny Depp’s legal team hug after the jury’s verdict in the Depp v. Heard civil defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, 01 June 2022
What are the pair’s career prospects going forward?
The impact of the trial on Depp and Heard’s respective careers in the entertainment industry remains to be seen, but legal and entertainment experts said both actors’ reputations have been damaged by the highly-publicized trial.
‘Both of them will work again, but I think it will be a while before a major studio will consider them safe’ enough to bet on,’ said former entertainment lawyer Matthew Belloni, who writes about the business of Hollywood for the newsletter Puck.
Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, was a bankable star leading up to the release of Heard’s defamatory op-ed in 2018 and is best known for his portrayal of the beloved Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
But in recent years he has only appeared in a series of smaller films, few of which were considered a commercial success.
Heard’s acting career has been more modest, and she is set to appear in only one upcoming high-profile role – the sequel to superhero flick Aquaman – though petitions to have her removed from the movie have received millions of signatures.
British PR expert Mark Borkowski said: ‘There is no way back for Heard in Hollywood. If you’re sitting there making a movie or thinking about casting it, are you going to hire her?
‘Look at the huge outcry about Aquaman 2 [where a petition to have her kicked off the film hit four million signatures last night]. The trial pollutes any marketing or PR to launch a film.’
Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles, called the trial a ‘classic murder-suicide,’ in terms of damage to both careers.
‘From a reputation-management perspective, there can be no winners… It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you’re potentially alienating a large segment of your audience.’
What did Depp say in his post-verdict statement?
Depp was not present in court to hear the verdict as he was in the UK on tour with musician Jeff Beck, but delivered a statement shortly after the trial was concluded.
‘Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed.’ he said.
‘From the very beginning, the goal of bringing this case was to reveal the truth, regardless of the outcome. Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me. I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.’
He concluded by thanking his fans and legal team for the help and support shown throughout the trial and said: ‘The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun. Truth never perishes.’
What did Heard say in her post-verdict statement?
Heard sat silently in the courtroom with a solemn expression as the verdict was read out. She briefly embraced her lawyers and swiftly exited the courtroom, but later released a short statement.
‘The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband,’ she said.
‘I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women… It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.
She concluded: ‘I’m sad I lost this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American – to speak freely and openly.’
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