EXCLUSIVE updated with statement from Depp’s rep: With his legal action against a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid on hold in the UK due to coronavirus lockdowns, Johnny Depp on Friday saw Amber Heard’s move to effectively steamroll Depp’s $50 million defamation suit against her hit a significant judicial roadblock.
“Defendant’s Demurrer is sustained as to the fourth statement listed above, but it is overruled as to the other three statements,” wrote Fairfax (VA) County Chief Judge Bruce White on Friday in a lengthy opinion letter (read it here) to lawyers on both sides of the personal and messy battle. “Further, Defendant’s Plea in Bar regarding the statute of limitations is denied. Counsel shall prepare an Order reflecting the Court’s ruling and forward that Order to the Court for entry,” the Virginia state judge added, noting the trio of statements by Heard distinctly implied that Depp had abused her, as she has claimed in the past.
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Ostensibly still set to go to trial in the commonwealth in August, the already litigious Depp first filed the suit just over a year ago in Virginia, which has more flexible defamation laws than California or New York. “Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse, she is a perpetrator,” the complaint from the Pirates of the Caribbean star insisted in reaction to an op-end Heard wrote about domestic violence for the Washington Post in December 2018.
Team Johnny unusually did not respond to request for comment on today’s letter from White, but Heard’s top lawyer Roberta Kaplan certainly tried to gleam some victory from the sting of a defeat to dismiss and avoid a trial.
“Today’s decision leaves it to a jury to decide the meaning of Ms. Heard’s op-ed and the truth of what she said,” the Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP partner told Deadline, as the hope that the statute of limitations may have also worked in the Aquaman actor’s favor withered.
“As we have said, the courts have strong mechanisms in place for determining the truth,” the defense attorney also said after having filed the dismissal attempt back in September. “Here, we remain confident that Ms. Heard will prevail at trial when the jury is presented with evidence on the question that the Court identified – namely, whether ‘Ms. Heard was abused by Mr. Depp.'”
(In response to Kaplan’s statement, Depp’s main lawyer Adam Waldman sent over the following this afternoon: “Today’s Court ruling speaks for itself. Roberta Kaplan’s suggestion that losing their own motion to dismiss was what they had planned all along also speaks for itself. As for Amber Heard’s mythical ‘evidence’ that Ms. Kaplan confidently cites, we and reality both look forward to seeing it.”)
Born into a media spotlight, the Rum Diary co-stars’ relatively short marriage came to an end in 2016 with a temporary restraining order slapped against Oscar nominee Depp over domestic violence claims. Their relationship ended in an a $7 million divorce settlement, most of which Heard ultimately donated to charity.
Although Heard’s WaPo op-ed never mentions Depp by name, the actor and his lawyers additionally claimed the piece tarnished Depp’s good-ish name. Amidst a series of lawsuits and settlements, many in Depp’s favor, over recent years, that PR stain supposedly cost him a place in the planned Pirates reboot, a claim the franchise’s studio Disney neither confirmed nor denied — or even said was on the high seas at the time.
Hunkered down in France and unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions in Europe and around the globe, Depp was set to take The Sun newspaper to trial in London for libel on March 23. The Murdoch tab called the Sweeney Todd star a “wife-beater” in a 2018 article on his marriage to Heard and his status in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
“Mr. Depp has spent years seeking justice,” said Waldman, Depp’s lead lawyer, earlier this month regarding the UK postponement.
“The judge hearing Mr. Depp’s defamation case against the Sun raised safety and practicality concerns,” the DC-based attorney noted of the decision by High Court Judge Andrew Nicol to postpone hearing. “Although the case is extremely important to Mr. Depp, he was also uneasy about putting anyone else in harm’s way for the sake of it …Mr Depp will wait for courts and borders to safely reopen, and then we will do this properly.”
That’s courts plural, being in both London and Fairfax, VA now.
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