Amber Heard’s legal team have filed for the verdict in the defamation case brought against her by Johnny Depp to be tossed out, a month after a seven-person jury ruled in favour of Depp.
Depp sued ex-wife Heard for defamation in February of 2019 regarding a 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post, in which she recounted being a survivor of domestic abuse. While Depp was not named in the piece, his lawyers argued it implied that she was sexually and physically abused by him during their marriage. Heard filed a counterclaim, alleging an attorney of Depp’s had defamed her in statements published in 2020.
On June 1, Depp was awarded $10million in compensatory damages and $5million in punitive damages, with the jury finding that statements Heard had made about her marriage were “false” and that she had acted with “actual malice”. Punitive damages were reduced to $350,000 due to a state law limit. Heard, meanwhile, was awarded $2million in compensatory damages after the jury found Depp had defamed her through his attorney.
In a memorandum filed on July 1 in Virginia Circuit Court by Heard’s attorneys, it was argued that the verdict in favour of Depp and against Heard was “excessive… in light of the evidence and law”, and calls for it to be set aside in its entirety with Depp’s complaint dismissed, or for a new trial to be ordered.
Heard’s lawyers argue that Depp “presented no evidence that Ms. Heard did not believe she was abused” and that as such, did not reach the legal requirements for actual malice. It added that Depp’s attorneys “proceeded solely on a defamation by implication theory, abandoning any claims that Ms. Heard’s statements were actually false”.
Elsewhere in the 43-page filing, Heard’s lawyers also make a claim of inadequate jury vetting – requesting an investigation into “potential improper juror service” by the court.
“The information on the jury panel list appears to be inconsistent with the identity and demographics of one of the Jurors,” it reads. “Juror No. 15 was apparently born in 1970, not 1945, as reported to and relied upon by the parties – including Ms. Heard – in selecting a jury panel.”
The filing claims that, as such, “it appears the identity of the juror was not verified”, and that it’s “unclear if Juror No. 15 was in fact ever summoned for jury duty or qualified to serve on the panel”.
“This warrants an investigation by this Court to determine if the Juror was in fact summoned, and whether the due process rights of the parties were bypassed. Depending upon the results of the investigation, this may justify setting aside the verdict in its entirety and setting this matter for a new trial.”
Additionally, the filing states that the damages that were awarded to Depp were both “excessive” as well as “inconsistent and irreconcilable” with the jury’s verdict that both actors had defamed one another.
In comments made a day after the verdict was reached, Heard’s attorney Elaine Bredehoft commented that Heard could “absolutely not” afford to the pay the $10.35million that had been awarded to Depp, and that there were “excellent grounds” for an appeal.
In a statement to Courthouse News, Depp’s lead attorney Ben Chew dismissed the motion for the verdict to be tossed as “what we expected, just longer [and] no more substantive”.
Following the verdict, Judge Penney Azcarate told Heard that she would have to file motions with the court in order to appeal the verdict. Azcarate added that Heard would have to put up an $8.35million bond before an appeal would move forward.
In 2020, prior to Depp and Heard’s trial taking place, Depp lost a libel suit against the publishers of The Sun. The suit related to an article the tabloid had published questioning his casting in the Fantastic Beasts film series despite Heard’s allegations of abuse. The High Court found that 12 of 14 alleged incidents of violence by Depp claimed by Heard were “substantially true”.
“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,” Heard said in a statement following the verdict being reached last month.
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”
In his own statement at the time, Depp said the jury’s verdict had given him his “life back”, saying he was “truly humbled” by the result. “Speaking the truth was something that I owed to my children and to all those who have remained steadfast in their support of me,” he added. “I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that.”
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