The latest chapter in the long series of legal battles between divorced Hollywood actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard began on Monday, with the former suing the latter for defamation over an opinion piece she wrote for The Washington Post in which she spoke about her experiences of domestic violence.
Although Ms Heard, 35, did not name her ex-husband in the December 2018 article, lawyers for Mr Depp say readers were likely to assume he was the person responsible for the ordeal she alluded to and are suing for $50 million, claiming the piece caused their client to lose work.
Mr Depp, 58, is a prolific successful star best known for his series of dark fantasy films with director Tim Burton and for the lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but was recently replaced as Gellert Grindelwald in the fantastic beasts Mads Mikkelsen films after Warner Brothers asked him to step down.
The new case is being heard in Fairfax County, Va., due to the court’s proximity to The post office’s offices and follows the defeat of Mr. Depp in a libel lawsuit in 2020 against The sun London newspaper after calling him a “wife beater” in an acrimonious divorce story.
Presiding Judge Penney Azcarate ruled at a preliminary hearing in Virginia in March that Ms Heard’s legal team was entitled to use a defense known as the anti-SLAPP provision, which stands for trial strategic against public participation and means the actress is free to argue before a jury that she should be shielded from a libel suit since the article in question dealt with a matter of public interest.
Elaine Bredehoft, Ms Heard’s lawyer, argued that her subject, the prevention of domestic abuse, was important to the public and therefore her client should be immune from prosecution.
Benjamin Chew, representing Mr. Depp, argued, ultimately unsuccessfully, that such a provision was not intended for use in private litigation.
“Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using the courts, and potential threats of lawsuits, to intimidate people who exercise their First Amendment rights,” says the Journalists Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“In terms of reporting, news outlets and individual journalists can use anti-gag laws to protect themselves from the financial threat of a baseless libel case brought by a subject of a company or a news story. ‘investigation.”
The trial is expected to generate huge interest and bring a number of high-profile figures to the witness stand, including, it seems, tech impresario Elon Musk and actor James Franco.
Writing on Instagram on Monday, Ms Heard said: “Johnny is suing me for an op-ed I wrote in The Washington Postin which I recounted my experience of violence and domestic violence.
“I never named him, rather I wrote about the price women pay to speak out against men in power. I continue to pay this price, but I hope that when this case is over, I can move on and Johnny too.”
She continued: “I have always harbored a love for Johnny and it pains me very much to have to go through the details of our past life together in front of the world. At this time, I acknowledge the continued support I have been blessed with. to receive throughout these years, and over the next few weeks, I will rely on him more than ever.
The trial continues.