Judge Hears Arguments in Johnny Depp Defamation Trial

(Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — Lawyers for Johnny Depp asked a judge Friday to toss out a $100 million defamation case filed against the actor by his ex-wife Amber Heard.   

Heard’s case is a counterclaim to a lawsuit filed by Depp, who also contends that Heard defamed him. Chief Judge Bruce White of the 19th Judicial Circuit of Virginia listened to arguments Friday.   

Depp first sued his ex-wife in March 2019, asking for $50 million in damages and claiming he was defamed by an op-ed Heard wrote in which she described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. The editorial, which didn’t mention him by name, was published in 2018 in The Washington Post, which is printed in Virginia.  

The counterclaim filed in August contends that Heard has become the target of a smear campaign that has included “false and defamatory statements to reporters repeatedly accusing Ms. Heard of being a liar and a hoax artist and accusing Ms. Heard of the crime of perjury.”   

Depp’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew of Brown Rudnick, argued that accusing someone of perpetrating a hoax or lying is not actionable, but a statement of opinion. Heard’s complaint also mentions texts in which Depp remarked “Let’s burn Amber.” Chew pointed out that those texts were private communications sent by the actor to a friend. 

But the charges are about “far more than generically calling someone a liar,” said Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft of the Virginia-based firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown.

The counterclaim contends that Depp wanted Heard removed from a prime role in the “Aquaman” film and as spokesman for L’Oreal. To that end, Heard claims Depp or his representatives used multiple social media accounts to defame her, targeting her Twitter account “to interfere with her contracts and/or business expectancies,” the lawsuit says.  Two of the accounts were responsible for 50% of the attacks. 

Heard also asks for a declaratory judgment finding that she is immune from civil liability as her op-ed was protected by the First Amendment.        

Depp and Heard were married little more than a year, but the case has extended 18 months with hundreds of pages of motions and numerous courtroom dust-ups over evidence. Earlier this week, the judge signed an order compelling Depp to appear in Virginia for deposition during three days in November. 

The case has been scheduled for May 2021, as Covid-19 restrictions have delayed jury trials.  Depp also sued News Group Newspapers in Great Britain, and a trial in that case concluded in July.  

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