UPDATED with statement from Depp lawyer: Johnny Depp is complaining that Hollywood is boycotting him, but a Virginia judge just handed the Minamata star a big win in his $50 million defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard.
Already pursuing $100 million counterclaim, the Aquaman star attempted a Hail Mary move in April to have Fairfax County Chief Judge Penney Azcarate dismiss the two-year old case based on her ex-husband losing a libel trial in the UK late last year against Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid’s designation of the Oscar nominee as a “wife beater.”
Subsequently, Depp lost in trying to get that British verdict overturned on appeal. Now, in what was the third unsuccessful time trying to send the Old Dominion matter packing, it is Heard who came up short today.
“The Court is not persuaded by Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the UK action,” Azcarate wrote in a dense opinion released today (read it here). “Defendant was not a part in the UK action and was not treated as one,” she continues, though it should be mentioned that both Heard and Depp took the stand over in London on their respective POVs on the various allegations of his abusive behavior.
“Because she was not named a defendant, she was not subject to the same discovery rules applicable to named parties,” the judge determined. “In fact, Defendant could not have been a named defendant to the UK litigation because her allegedly defamatory statements were made after the UK action commenced,” Azcarte said, citing the December 2018 Washington Post op-ed by Heard that set Depp off on this legal pursuit not long afterward.
Then, noting comparisons between free speech in the UK and free speech in the U.S. are “untenable” in this instance, Azcarate twisted the point a little more.
“Defendant argues she was in privity with The Sun because they both had the same interest in the case,” she said “However, for privity to exist, Defendant’s interest in the case must be so identical with The Sun‘s interest such that The Sun’s representation of its interest is also a representation of Defendant’s legal right,” Azcarate also proclaimed in her sometimes biting opinion, at one point calling Heard’s assertions “puzzling.”
“The Sun‘s interests were based on whether the statements the newspaper published were false,” the 10-page opinion letter adds. “Defendant’s interests relate to whether the statements she published were false.”
“Mr. Depp is most gratified by the Court’s decision,” the actor’s lawyer Ben Chew of the DC office of Brown Rudnick told Deadline tonight with both brevity and understatement.
Hit and miss in his legal adventures over the past several years, this is the second victory that the fired Fantastic Beasts star Depp has had against Heard in almost as many weeks. Earlier this month, a New York judge ruled that Depp could conduct a determination if his Rum Diary co-star really did donate a portion of their $7 million divorce settlement to the ACLU, as she has widely proclaimed.
Having been delayed on numerous occasions because of the pandemic and more, currently the Virginia matter is set to go to trial in April.
Alleging that Heard’s WaPo piece cost the Jack Sparrow actor a role in Disney’s Pirates reboot, the initial suit also staked out that Depp actually was the real victim in the couple’s short-lived marriage.
While the op-ed never actually mentioned Depp by name, the downward spiral of the couple’s relationship ended in full public view in 2016, with the actor paying his now-ex-wife big bucks that she might have given to charity. “Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse, she is a perpetrator,” Depp’s spring 2019 suit said. Since the filing, Depp and his crew have consistently declared that Heard has been lying about any abuse at the actor’s hand, as a steady stream of media leaks and footage has sought to establish.
Before filing her countersuit, Heard had not only tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get the case tossed out but at one point had wanted it moved to another jurisdiction — which didn’t work out so well. Depp, on the other hand, sought to undermine the UK case and Heard’s credibility by claiming that his ex did not donate all of the $7 million she received in their breakup to L.A.’s Children Hospital Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, a claim that is true to some extent, according to WME-repped Heard’s top lawyer
“Amber has already been responsible for seven figures in donations to charitable causes and intends to continue to contribute and eventually fulfill her pledge,” the Reston, VA located Elaine Bredehoft told Deadline on January 7 this year. “However, Amber has been delayed in that goal because Mr. Depp filed a lawsuit against her, and consequently, she has been forced to spend millions of dollars defending Mr. Depp’s false accusations against her,” the attorney added, dodging the timeline speed bump and focusing on media stories that slag her client.
The bitter matter has seen not just the ACLU dragged in, but Disney, the LAPD and Elon Musk too with wide-ranging subpoenas from both sides. The judge’s opinion today means that it is likely more big names will be added to this before it is over