FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) — In a sharply worded decision Wednesday, the chief judge of Fairfax County Circuit Court denied Amber Heard’s motion for a mistrial in the six-week defamation case that ended with a jury finding the actress must pay her ex-husband Johnny Depp more than $10 million in damages.
The ruling was a response to post-trial motions filed by Heard’s legal team that took issue with the jury's conclusion that Depp took a financial hit as the result of an op-ed in which Heard identified herself as a domestic abuse survivor. In particular, attorneys for the "Aquaman" star charged that at least one juror was not properly vetted by court officials.
On a court list, that juror’s birthday was in 1945. But the juror, identified only as Juror 15, was a younger person living at the same address, according to court documents.
The legal teams for both Heard and Depp had “an affirmative obligation to ensure the accuracy of the information provided for the jury panel,” wrote Fairfax County Chief Circuit Court Judge Penney Azcarate, who presided over the trial. “A party cannot wait until receiving an adverse verdict to object, for the first time, to an issue known since the beginning of trial.”
The summons issued to this juror “listed his legal name and address and no birth date was noted,” according to the ruling. The juror, who met the statutory requirements for service, completed a questionnaire filling in his proper birth date.
“The parties also questioned the jury panel for a full day and informed the court that the jury panel was acceptable,” Azcarate wrote. “There is no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.”
In objecting to the juror, Heard's legal team has “neither followed the proper procedure nor shown evidence of prejudice. Defendant does not allege Juror Fifteen's inclusion on the jury prejudiced her in any way,” the judge added.
Azcarate noted the juror was vetted, sat for the trial, deliberated and reached a verdict.
“The only evidence before this court is that this juror and all jurors followed their oaths, the court's instructions and orders," she wrote. "This court is bound by the competent decision of the jury.”
Depp’s lead attorney, Benjamin Chew, said the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star is “most gratified by the court’s rulings.”
But Heard's lead attorney Elaine Bredehoft said, "We're disappointed but not surprised." She explained that during a hearing in June, Azcarate made it clear she was ready to rule.
And while Wednesday's ruling ends the case in circuit court, Heard is still planning to appeal the verdict, Bredehoft confirmed.
Depp sued Heard in 2019, charging that he was defamed by an op-ed that appeared in The Washington Post under Heard’s byline. In the 2018 article, Heard recounted that she had become a public figure representing domestic abuse two years earlier, when she was married to Depp. The case was filed in Virginia, where the Post is printed and where servers for its online edition are located.
Depp, 59, was initially awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The judge reduced the latter amount to the statutory maximum of $350,000.
The jury also found that Heard, 36, was defamed by a statement made by one of Depp’s attorneys. She was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages. For both amounts, the judge’s order set interest at 6% yearly.
Azcarate also lifted orders unsealing some documents connected to the case but kept other information involving home addresses or sensitive medical issues under seal.
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