FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Amber Heard pushed to have details of her marriage with fellow actor Johnny Depp included in an op-ed piece that she wrote about domestic violence, even though her lawyers wanted those passages removed from the article, which is now the subject of a libel lawsuit, according to evidence introduced Thursday at the trial.
Jurors in the libel lawsuit Depp filed against Heard heard testimony Thursday from Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. It was the ACLU that drafted the article under Heard’s name, reflecting her role as an ACLU ambassador on gender violence issues.
Dougherty testified about the push-and-pull that occurred between first draft and publication of the op-ed piece in The Washington Post in December 2018 — strategically timed by both the ACLU and Heard to coincide with the release of “Aquaman,” a movie in which she played a prominent role.
Depp sued in Fairfax County Circuit Court after the article was published, in which Heard says that “two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” Depp’s lawyers say that’s a clear reference to abuse allegations she levied against Depp in 2016 that Depp says are untrue.
Dougherty testified that numerous ACLU lawyers reviewed the article at various stages, and asked Heard’s lawyers to review the piece as well to ensure it did not run afoul of a non-disclosure agreement she had with Depp in connection with the couple’s 2016 divorce.
During those discussions, Heard sent back an edited version approved by her lawyers that “specifically neutered much of the copy regarding her marriage,” according to an email from Jessica Weitz, an ACLU employee who coordinated with Heard.
According to the email, though, Heard was looking for a way to have a deleted passage restored to the article.
The various drafts of the articles were not shown to the jury so it’s not clear how many personal details were in the first draft and how much Heard’s lawyers had excised.
But the final version contains very little about Heard’s personal experiences. It doesn’t mention Depp at all. In addition to the passage about “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” in another passage she writes, “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real-time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
Much of the article talks about legislative priorities for advocates of domestic abuse prevention. Other passages refer to parts of her personal life unrelated to Depp.
Dougherty testified that “the language that wound up in the final op-ed piece was very different from the original language” in the draft, Dougherty said. “It did not refer directly to Ms. Heard’s relationship with Johnny Depp.”
While the trial is supposed to be over whether Depp was defamed in the article, very little testimony in the first three weeks, leading up to Thursday, has related to the article itself or its contents. Heard’s lawyers predicted at the outset of the trial that it would become a mudslinging soap opera that would delve into messy details of Depp and Heard’s personal lives.
Heard’s lawyers, though, have said that even if the jury were to believe that she was never abused by Depp, Heard should still prevail in the lawsuit because the article is not about Depp, does not defame him, and Heard’s free-speech rights allow her to weigh in on matters of public importance like domestic violence.
Much of Dougherty’s testimony also centered on whether Heard has fulfilled a promise to donate $3.5 million — half of her $7 million divorce settlement with Depp — to the ACLU. Dougherty testified that the ACLU credits her with contributing $1.3 million so far and expected the money to come in over a 10-year period, but that she has made no contributions since 2018.
Jurors also heard briefly from Depp’s business manager, Ed White. White said he intervened in 2016 to resolve financial difficulties for Depp, including unpaid taxes and a cash crunch. When he blamed Heard for an excessive wine bill that featured multiple $500 bottles of Spanish Vega Sicilia wine, Heard’s lawyers responded with a barrage of questions over Depp’s spending excesses, including spending millions of dollars to shoot journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon.
Depp and Heard met during filming of “The Rum Diary,” an adaptation of a Thompson novel. Depp testified earlier that he and Thompson were friends, and that Depp actually found the lost “Rum Diary” manuscript when he was going through Thompson’s papers.