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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Depp’s lawyers say Amber Heard lied about donating to charities

Attorneys are building their defamation case with charges that Depp's ex-wife, Amber Heard, didn't make charitable donations as promised.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — When she divorced actor Johnny Depp in 2016, Amber Heard announced that she would donate her $7 million settlement to charities, with half, or $3.5 million, going to the ACLU.

That was six years ago, and so far, she has given approximately $1.3 million, according to Terence Dougherty, chief operating officer and general counsel for the ACLU.

Questions about Heard’s charitable giving surfaced during Dougherty's deposition, which was pre-recorded and shown today to a jury in the defamation case Depp brought against Heard. Attorneys for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star have accused Heard of lying — primarily about whether he assaulted her. But in the process of making that argument, they also contend that she lies about other things — such as the amount of her charitable giving.

The ACLU understood that Heard meant for her $3.5 million contribution to be given over a 10-year period, according to Dougherty. Of the amount given so far, Heard donated $350,000 directly. The remaining sum was sent by others in Heard’s name: Depp wrote a check for $100,000. Another $500,000 came from Elon Musk.

Everyone at the organization had hoped and expected that Heard would eventually fulfill the donation, Dougherty said. "Once Ms. Heard began having financial difficulties, we obviously recognized that it might impact whether the full $3.5 million is paid or impact whether it is paid over a much longer period of time."

Up until 2018 Heard was making payments to the organization, pointed out Elaine Bredehoft, one of Heard's attorneys. In response to Bredehoft's questions, Dougherty confirmed that after Depp filed suit against the actress on March 1, 2019, there were no additional payments.

The lawsuit targeted Heard over an op-ed published in The Washington Post in which she described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. The article never mentioned Depp but referenced a time when Heard would have been married to him. Depp filed suit contending he’d been defamed by his ex-wife and asking for $50 million in damages. Heard has filed a counterclaim asking for $100 million.

During prerecorded testimony, Dougherty detailed how lawyers and ACLU staffers, along with Heard, agonized over the wording of that op-ed to sidestep a legal kerfuffle with Depp.

Robin Shulman, then of the organization’s communications department, wrote a first draft of the piece.  Shulman and another ACLU employee exchanged the draft and forwarded it to Heard. At one point, Shulman wrote to Heard, “I tried to gather your fire and rage and really interesting analysis and shape that into an op-ed form.”

Depp’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew, asked, “When she says, ‘fire and rage,’ that’s Miss Heard’s fire and rage, is that correct?”  The rage, he said, “would be directed against Johnny Depp, who purportedly abused her. Correct?”

Dougherty disagreed. “I didn’t take it to mean that. I took it to mean fire and rage about gender violence issues.”

Shulman suggested that Heard’s lawyers review the draft “for the way I skirted around talking about your marriage.”

ACLU activists wanted the op-ed to be as powerful as possible in order to place it in a major newspaper. But they also didn’t want the piece to run afoul of the couple’s non-disclosure agreement in connection with their divorce.

A subsequent draft reflected changes Shulman made after meeting with Heard. Lawyers for Heard initially reviewed the draft and removed references to the marriage.

“And is it also true that there were some at the ACLU who expressed their belief that excising the references to her marriage and divorce from Johnny Depp made the op-ed less impactful?” Chew asked.

The attorney wondered if Heard had pushed to get that excised material back. Dougherty objected, saying, “The language that wound up in the final op-ed piece was very different from the original language."

Other witnesses included Edward White, Depp's business manager, who testified that Heard made a hard drive for money as the divorce proceeded. "She [Heard] initially was looking for a consideration of $4 million. But her demand increased. It went from $4 million to $5 million." Then it escalated to $7 million. "The next demand was that all of this consideration be paid to her free of taxation."

Malcolm Connolly, a security guard, testified that Heard berated Depp. The guard, who testified by video-link, took a photo of Depp with a bruised face. And Starling Jenkins, Depp's chauffeur, testified that after Heard tossed Depp's cellphone off the balcony of their penthouse, he went down to the street in search for it. Using a program, he tracked the phone down and found it in the possession of a homeless man who returned it in exchange for a reward: $420, chicken tacos and bottled water.

During cross examination, Jenkins admitted that Depp first threw Heard's phone off the balcony.

Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, Trials

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