Johnny Depp suing ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation in US two years after failed English lawsuit

The latest chapter in Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard has begun.

Mr Depp, 58, is suing Ms Heard for $US50 million ($67 million), saying she defamed him when she wrote a 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse.

The op-ed never mentioned Mr Depp by name, but his lawyers have said it was clear Ms Heard was referencing him and that the piece damaged his film career and reputation.

Mr Depp has denied all allegations of abuse, saying in his lawsuit that Ms Heard’s claims were an “elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms Heard and advance her career”.

The US trial comes less than two years after Mr Depp lost a libel case against British tabloid The Sun for labeling him a “wife-beater”.

A London High Court judge ruled he had repeatedly assaulted Ms Heard and put her in fear for her life.

Elon Musk, James Franco on witness list

Mr Depp and Ms Heard both submitted long lists of potential witnesses they could put on the stand in the US case.

Ms Heard’s list includes her ex-boyfriend and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, who she texted with about Mr Depp.

Also on the list of potential witnesses is actor James Franco, who, Ms Heard testified in the London case, inquired about bruises on her face following an alleged abusive incident with Mr Depp.

Amber Heard at the High Court in London during Johnny Depp’s libel case.(PA/PA: Aaron Chown)

Mr Depp and Ms Heard met while making The Rum Diary in 2011 and married four years later.

Their relationship was brought into the spotlight in 2015 when then-agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce threatened to put down their dogs Pistol and Boo after they were smuggled into Australia.

Ms Heard accused Mr Depp of domestic abuse after filing for divorce in 2016.

In her evidence at the London High Court, Ms Heard said Mr Depp would turn into a jealous alter ego, “the monster”, after bingeing on drugs and alcohol and had threatened to kill her.

She detailed 14 occasions of extreme violence when she said the actor choked, punched, slapped, head-butted, throttled and kicked her.

The London judge accepted 12 of these accounts as true.

Following the November 2020 ruling in the London libel trial, Mr Depp was replaced with Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in the third film in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, a spin-off from the Harry Potter books and films.

A composite image of Johnny Depp and Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise.
Johnny Depp was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald in the third Fantastic Beasts film.(IMDb)

Heard also suing Depp for calling her a liar

Mr Depp ascended to Hollywood stardom in the 1990s with portrayals of loners and outsiders in cult classics such as John Waters’ Cry-Baby and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.

He became a household name with the swashbuckling Disney franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, playing fan favorite Jack Sparrow.

Ms Heard, 35, is known for her roles in Aquaman and Justice League.

In the England lawsuit, Depp said the accusations of abuse were untrue and they had made it difficult for him to get the sorts of roles he once did.

The US is a difficult forum for libel plaintiffs, especially public figures like Mr Depp, who faces several hurdles in the Virginia case.

Mr Depp must prove to the jury by clear and convincing evidence that Ms Heard knowingly made false claims.

Under English defamation law, the person being sued has the burden of proving their claims were true.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp together.
The London judge accepted a dozen accounts in which Johnny Depp had been violent towards Amber Heard.(Reuters: Suzanne Plunkett)

Ms Heard, for her part, will argue that she is shielded, or “immune,” from liability because her 2018 op-ed on domestic violence dealt with a matter of public concern.

“I continue to pay the price, but hopefully when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny.”

She has also brought her own libel claim against Mr Depp, saying he smeared her by calling her a liar.

Ms Heard’s counterclaim will be decided as part of the trial, which could last for six weeks.

Ms Heard is seeking $134 million in damages from Mr Depp, according to court papers.

The Washington Post is not a defender in the trial.

Mr Depp’s lawyers have said they filed the case in Fairfax County, outside the District of Columbia, because the newspaper is printed at a facility there.

Ms Heard unsuccessfully tried to transfer the case to Los Angeles, where she and Mr Depp lived.

Ms Heard’s lawyers alleged “forum-shopping,” saying Mr Depp’s attorneys sued in Virginia because they perceived it as a more favorable venue than California.

California has a more strongly worded “anti-SLAPP law,” a type of legal protection meant to shield journalists and others from frivolous lawsuits designed to silence them.

Juror selection finished on Monday local time and opening statements are slated to begin on Tuesday.

Reuters

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