After a bitterly fought six-week trial, a US jury on Wednesday found both Hollywood stars Amber Heard and Johnny Depp liable for defamation in their lawsuits against each other. The jury awarded significantly more damages to Depp, a legal win for the actor.
Depp sued Heard, his ex-wife, for defamation over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Though Depp was not named in the article, he claims it cost him lucrative acting roles. Heard countersued her ex-husband for defamation over statements Depp’s attorney made about her abuse claims.
The jury found that Heard defamed Depp in three separate statements in The Washington Post piece, and that Depp defamed Heard with one statement his attorney made.
Johnny Depp’s attorneys Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez speak to the media after the verdict was announced. – CNN
The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million dollars in punitive damages. The jury awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages and no money for punitive damages. – CNN
What is defamation?
Cornell Law school in the US says defamation “is a statement that injures a third party’s reputation”.
This includes both libel, which is when something is written or published, and slander, which is when something is a spoken statement.
To successfully sue for defamation you must “prove four things:
- A false statement purporting to be fact
- Publication or communication of that statement to a third person
- Fault amounting to at least negligence
- Damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement”.
In English Law, the definition of defamation is very similar. The Government’s Health and Safety Executive defines it as: “A defamatory statement is one which injures the reputation of another person: it ‘tends to lower him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally’”.
What happened in this case?
Depp argued that Heard defamed him when she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse” in a newspaper opinion piece.
Heard countersued, saying Depp smeared her when his lawyer called her accusations a “hoax.”
Depp denied hitting Heard, 36, or any woman and said she was the one who turned violent in their relationship.
He told jurors the allegations from Heard, best known for her role in “Aquaman,” had 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.
At the center of the legal case was a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard in the Washington Post. The article did not mention Depp by name but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referring to him.
During six weeks of testimony, Heard’s attorneys argued that she had told the truth and that her comments were covered as free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Jurors listened to recordings of the couple’s fights and saw graphic photos of Depp’s bloody finger. He said the top of the finger was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him in 2015.
Heard denied injuring Depp’s finger and said Depp sexually assaulted her that night with a liquor bottle. She said she struck him only to defend herself or her sister.
Amber Heard leaving court on Wednesday. – CNN
Testimony was livestreamed widely on social media, drawing large audiences to hear details about the couple’s troubled relationship.
Depp’s lawyers filed the US case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper was not a defendant.
Depp achieved a near-total victory in a defamation suit against his ex-wife to cap a six-week trial featuring graphic testimony about the stars’ soured relationship.
The jury agreed with all of Depp’s defamation claims, which cited a passage in the article and headline that read: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
However, the seven-person jury in Virginia also ruled for Heard on one counterclaim against Depp.
Jurors rejected two of Heard’s three counterclaims. They concluded she was defamed when an attorney for Depp told a media outlet that Heard staged property damage to show to police after an alleged fight.
The Pirates of the Caribbean film star depicted the decision as a vindication, and his former wife said it was “a disappointment.”
“The jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled,” Depp, who watched the verdict from Britain, said in a statement.
“The best is yet to come and a new chapter has finally begun,” he added, ending with the Latin phrase “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes.”
Heard, seated in the courtroom between two of her lawyers, looked down as the verdicts were read.
“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” she said in a statement. “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.”
“I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women,” she added. “It is a setback.”
How much did he win?
Jurors awarded Depp $15m in damages from Heard, which the judge reduced to $10.35m to comply with state limits on punitive damages. The panel ordered Depp to pay Heard $2m in damages.
Depp, 58, had sued Heard for $50m and Heard countersued for $100m.
Depp faced a different outcome in Britain less than two years ago, when he sued The Sun for calling him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard. – INEWS