Johnny Depp, Amber Heard defamation verdict explained: Everyone counts the jurors considered

As a public figure, Johnny Depp faced a high bar to win his libel case against his ex-wife Amber Heard. According to seven unanimous jurors, he cleared him. Depp said his ex-wife defamed him in a 2018 newspaper editorial in which she alluded to abuse allegations against Depp. His name was never mentioned.

On Wednesday, the Virginia civil jury ruled in favor of Depp on all three counts, finding that Heard not only made false and defamatory statements, but that she did so with “actual malice” – a higher threshold for cases involving public figures. The jurors concluded that Depp should receive over $10 million.

Depp’s victory was not absolute, however. The jurors also found that part of Heard’s counterclaim was valid. They dismissed two of Heard’s three counts, but found she had been defamed by a lawyer for Depp who accused her of trashing their apartment to make her look worse to police. The jury awarded him $2 million.

A look at each count considered by jurors:

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First account against Heard

Jurors considered whether Depp was defamed by the online headline of the op-ed in The Washington Post“I spoke out against sexual violence — and faced the wrath of our culture. This must change.

Heard’s attorneys argued that she did not write the title.

But jurors concluded that Heard “made or published” it and that it was defamatory.

Second count against Heard

Jurors considered the op-ed’s third paragraph: “Then two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women who s ‘express.”

Depp’s lawyers said he was clearly referring to Depp, given that Heard publicly accused him of domestic violence in 2016.

Heard’s attorneys said a mountain of evidence showed Heard had been repeatedly abused, and that a single case of proven abuse would render the line non-defamatory. They also argued that the statement was objectively true, as it did not focus on Depp, but on Heard’s experience speaking out.

The jurors disagreed, finding the statement defamatory.

Third count against Heard

In a second passage from the op-ed, Heard wrote, “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

Depp’s attorneys again said he was clearly referring to Depp.

And, as with the other two counts, jurors found Heard defamed Depp with ‘actual malice’ – there was clear and compelling evidence that Heard either knew it was untrue or acted with contempt reckless for the truth.

First account against Depp

Heard brought three counts of defamation against Depp, claiming she was repeatedly defamed by her former attorney Adam Waldman, who called Heard’s abuse allegations a hoax. Heard said the comments hurt his career.

The jurors considered a statement by Waldman that appeared on The Daily Mail April 8, 2020 website: “Amber Heard and her friends in the media use false allegations of sexual violence as both a sword and a shield depending on their needs. They chose some of his sexual violence hoax “facts” as their sword, inflicting them on the public and on Mr. Depp.

The jurors concluded that Heard’s attorneys failed to prove all elements of defamation.

Second count against Depp

Heard got his only win on a statement Waldman made to The daily mail. He accused Heard and his friends of fabricating abuse allegations following a 2016 fight at the couple’s Hollywood penthouse that prompted Heard to call the police.

The statement reads: “It was simply an ambush, a hoax. They tricked Mr. Depp into calling the cops, but the first attempt didn’t work. Officers came to the penthouses, searched and questioned them thoroughly, and left after finding no facial or property damage. So Amber and her friends spilled some wine and roughed up the place, got their stories straight under the guidance of a lawyer and a publicist, and then made a second call to 911.

Two officers testified they saw no signs that Heard had been harmed, although she appeared in public with a mark on her face a few days later to seek a temporary restraining order.

The jurors agreed with Heard’s lawyers that Waldman’s statement was false and defamatory and that he acted with actual malice.

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Third count against Depp

The final tally against Waldman involved a statement from the same article: “We have reached the beginning of the end of Ms. Heard’s abuse hoax against Johnny Depp.”

Jurors found Heard’s lawyers failed to prove the statement was defamatory.

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