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Virginia judge denies Amber Heard’s attempt to toss Johnny Depp’s defamation case

The judge refused to accept findings from a U.K. court that ruled the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor had abused his wife.

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — A Virginia Circuit Court judge Tuesday denied Amber Heard’s third attempt to dismiss a defamation case brought against her by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp.

In so doing, Chief Circuit Court Judge Penney S. Azcarate refused to embrace a U.K. court's findings that Depp had abused Heard on a dozen occasions, making the actress fear for her life.

The U.K. lawsuit, filed by Depp in 2018, named the News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, and its editor, Dan Wootton, as defendants and focused on an article in which Depp was described as a "wife beater." Depp charged the publication with libel — but lost that case.

Heard's legal team wanted the Virginia court to accept those findings, so that Depp, 58, would not be able to contend that he was defamed by a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which Heard, 35, described herself as a survivor of domestic abuse.

During a hearing last month, Depp’s attorney, Ben Chew of Brown Rudnick, argued that the court should not accept the U.K. findings, as the countries have different disclosure and evidentiary rules.

In an 11-page opinion letter published today, Azcarate wrote that she was not persuaded by Heard’s argument that Depp “had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the U.K. action. ... Defendant (Heard) was not a party in the U.K. action and was not treated as one. Because she was not a named defendant, she was not subject to the same discovery rules applicable to named parties.”

The judge also pointed out that defamed parties are more likely to bring suit in England “due to their more favorable defamation laws.” Upholding English libel judgments in the U.S. would create a chilling effect “and could create a dangerous precedent,” Azcarate added.

Depp is “most gratified by the court’s decision,” according to a statement released by Chew. Heard’s legal team, led by Elaine Charlson Bredehoft of the firm Charlson Bredehoft Cohen and Brown, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Depp filed suit in Northern Virginia in March 2019, three months after publication of an op-ed in which Heard described facing backlash after coming out as a domestic abuse survivor. Even though the article didn't name Depp, the actor contends that after publication he lost the role of Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. Depp's lawsuit asks for $50 million in damages.

Two years have elapsed since, and this is Heard's third attempt to get the case tossed out of court. The "Aquaman" actress has also filed a counterclaim asking for $100 million in damages. Lawyers for the two actors often square off in court to argue various aspects of the case, which has been delayed as the result of the pandemic. It is currently scheduled for the spring of next year.

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