Depp to Get Drafts of Article at Center of Defamation Case Against Heard

A Virginia judge said actress Amber Heard must also turn over a range of documents related to claims that she was the victim of domestic violence. 

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp arrive at the premiere of Depp’s film “Black Mass” at the London film festival in 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP, File)

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Johnny Depp’s lawsuit accusing his ex-wife Amber Heard of defamation enters its third year in court with a ruling that the actress must turn over drafts of an editorial she published in The Washington Post.   

Fairfax County Circuit Court Chief Judge Penney S. Azcarate ruled from the bench Friday that Heard must also turn over certain communications with partners and associates, along with a passel of other documents related to claims that she was the victim of domestic violence. 

Drafts of the editorial would reveal the writing process of a piece published in the Post on Dec. 18, 2018. That editorial, in which Heard, 35, described the backlash she faced after stepping forward as a survivor of domestic abuse, is the basis for Depp’s complaint, filed three months later in Fairfax County, where the newspaper is printed.   

She wrote the editorial “with the assistance and advice of others,” according to court filings. She didn’t pen the headline, which read, “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”  

While there have been numerous hearings in the case, Friday’s was the first before Azacarte, who took over for retiring Judge Bruce White. It also produced one of the more heated exchanges in the legal saga.  

Other than Heard, “Depp has never been accused by a single woman of raising a finger to them,” charged Depp’s attorney Ben Chew of Brown Rudnick. The attorney repeated claims made in the the 57-year-old “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor’s original complaint that Heard had been accused of assaulting a partner. Those charges were dropped.

Chew also accused Heard of lying about donating her $7 million divorce settlement to charities, including the ACLU and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.  

“That was false,” Chew said. “That was perjury.”   

For her part, Heard’s lawyer Elaine Charlson Bredehoft told the judge that Chew was “trying to get into your honor’s head.” Heard pledged the money to charities and intends to make good on the promise, the attorney said.    

Bredehoft, a partner in her firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown, pointed out that the “Aquaman” actress has produced all kinds of documents already – a hard drive, communications, voluminous paperwork.

“We’ve done nothing to hide anything,” she said.

In court filings, the attorney wrote that Heard, who has also filed a counterclaim in the case, had provided more than “one million responsive documents supporting her damages.”   

Earlier this year, Bredehoft fought for – and won – the right to use an anti-SLAPP defense. The term SLAPP – strategic lawsuits against public participation – was coined to describe lawsuits that aim to silence or short-circuit free speech. Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law allows immunity from civil liability for statements about matters of public concern protected under the First Amendment. 

Bredehoft also filed a notice with the court outlining the findings of last summer’s court case in the United Kingdom. Depp sued in that country over statements alleging abuse of Heard reported in The Sun. The burden of proof was on the defendants in that case, the newspaper and its editor. The court ruled in favor of the publisher. In March, the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal rejected Depp’s request to appeal the lower court’s ruling.

The two cases are based on the same set of operative facts, the brief pointed out. 

“The high court found that Depp failed to prevail on his libel claim because the statements were substantially true and that Depp committed domestic violence against Ms. Heard on at least 12 occasions, at times causing Ms. Heard to fear for her life,” the filing states.

It added that the Fairfax County court should recognize the U.K. judgment, giving it full effect. Such a finding would mean that the statements in the editorial were found to be true, the filing noted, “so Ms. Heard is entitled to the immunity and relief afforded by Virginia’s anti-SLAPP statute as a matter of law.”  

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