Amber Heard

Amber Heard face critical legal challenges in her attempt to overturn Johnny Depp’s victory


The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard libel trial, which drew a lot of attention earlier this year for two months as a no-holds-barred, live-streamed soap opera starring one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, is not going away quietly. Heard’s attorneys submitted a 51-page motion earlier this month asking Judge Penney Azcarate to overturn the jury’s decision, which awarded Depp $10 million and Heard $2 million on opposing defamation charges.

The motion lists several grounds for rejecting the verdict, including the unexpected choice to find both sides winners to some degree and an odd case of mistaken identity involving one of the jurors.

After Amber Heard published an opinion article about domestic abuse in The Washington Post in 2018 and referred to herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” Depp filed a lawsuit for $25 million in Fairfax County. Although Depp was never specifically mentioned in the piece, according to his attorneys, many paragraphs that referred to the widely reported abuse claims she made in 2016 when she filed for divorce impliedly defamed him.

Amber Heard subsequently submitted a counterclaim for $50 million, again alleging slander. By the time the matter went to trial, her counterclaim had been reduced to a few quotes from one of Depp’s attorneys who dismissed Heard’s accusations of abuse as a fabrication.

In response to Heard’s counterclaim, the jury gave Depp $15 million and Heard $2 million. Due to Virginia law’s $350,000 restriction on punitive damages, the $15 million verdict was lowered to $10.35 million.

In court documents, Heard’s attorneys claim that the $10 million verdicts are not supported by the evidence and appear to show that the jurors failed to concentrate on the consequences of the 2018 op-ed piece, as they were supposed to, and instead just took a broad view of the harm to Depp’s reputation that resulted from the alleged abuse.

However, according to Depp’s attorneys, testimony from his agent and other witnesses supports the damages. They claim that Heard’s team’s examples are “decades old, and none involves an international A-list celebrity.”

Given the evidence that the actor’s reputation had already been damaged in Hollywood long before the op-ed was published, Steve Cochran, a civil attorney in Virginia who was appointed by a judge to serve as a neutral conciliator in the case to try to minimise pretrial discovery disputes, said he always thought the damages were the weakest part of Depp’s case. Even yet, he expressed scepticism about Heard’s ability to have the judgement overturned.

However, according to Depp’s attorneys, jurors were able to identify precisely which remarks they believed to be defamatory on the verdict form. They claim that the conflicting verdicts make sense when you look at the individual remarks.

A Virginia Beach lawyer named Jeremiah Denton III who has handled defamation lawsuits said he doesn’t see the findings as being incompatible. The reward most at risk, according to him, is the $2 million handed to Heard, as it is legally questionable whether Depp can be held accountable for assertions made by his lawyer.

A case of apparent mistaken identity with one of the jurors is among the discussion’s stranger topics. A 77-year-old county resident received a summons for the trial, per court documents. However, the man’s son, who goes by the same name and resides at the same location, answered the summons and took his place.

Virginia law is rigorous regarding jury identification, according to Heard’s attorneys, and an instance of mistaken identity is cause for a mistrial. Although they claim there is no proof that the 52-year-old son, who is only known as Juror #15 in court documents, intentionally or subtly tried to unseat his father, they maintain that the possibility should not be ruled out.

Heard’s lawyers wrote, “The Court cannot assume, as Mr Depp asks it to, that Juror 15’s apparently improper service was an innocent mistake. It could have been an intentional attempt to serve on the jury of a high-profile case.”