Johnny Depp Files Appellate Brief Asking Court to Reverse One Count of Defamation

In an appellate brief filed this week, Johnny Depp’s legal team is arguing that the jury got it right in his defamation trial against Amber Heard—except when it came to her countersuit, where they found he had defamed his ex-wife through his lawyer.

“This Court should reverse the judgment on Ms. Heard’s Counterclaim as to the April 27 Waldman Statement, but should otherwise affirm the judgment in Mr. Depp’s favor,” Depp’s legal team writes in the brief (Deadline has published the entire filing).

The jury awarded Heard $2 million in damages for her countersuit, argued simultaneously in court, over one of three statements that Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman had made. In the statement deemed defamatory, which was given to the Daily Mail in 2020, Waldman said that Heard’s claims of abuse were a “hoax” (Waldman gave all three statements in light of a similar defamation case involving Heard that was underway in the UK at the time, which Depp eventually lost). Heard’s team called Depp “vicariously liable” for his representation’s statements, and the jury agreed in that one case. 

Depp’s team is saying that the jury did everything perfectly by ruling in favor of Depp’s side on the three counts of defamation in his suit—but that it made a mistake in regard to the one countersuit claim. “Ms. Heard presented no evidence at trial that Mr. Depp was personally involved in directing or making any of the three Waldman Statements,” Depp’s lawyers argue. “Indeed, Mr. Depp testified that he had never even seen the Waldman Statements prior to the filing of the Counterclaim in August of 2020.”

The brief adds that Heard “failed to present evidence that Mr. Waldman acted with actual malice when he made the April 27 Statement.” 

The damages awarded to Heard for Waldman’s statement are paltry compared to those awarded to Depp, which ultimately totaled $10.35 million. In the trial, which Depp filed suit for in 2019 and which ended this past June, some three years later, the actor claimed a 2018 op-ed written by Heard in support of the Violence Against Women Act—and in coordination with the ACLU—defamed him in three places (Heard was an ACLU ambassador at the time). 

In the piece, while arguing in favor of reauthorizing the legislation, Heard wrote briefly of her personal relationship to domestic abuse but did not refer to Depp by name. Depp successfully claimed that readers could infer she was talking about him in two of its sentences and in its headline, “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

The jury sided with Depp on all three counts. Heard has since appealed the decision, filing her 16-point grounds for appeal last month; the filing also addressed the confusing outcome that the jury found the two actors had defamed each other. 

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