Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, for $50 million in damages, claiming she defamed him by writing a 2018 op-ed about coming forward with domestic abuse accusations, though she did not mention him by name. Meanwhile, Heard filed a countersuit seeking $100 million in damages, claiming Depp spearheaded a campaign to discredit her and her allegations as "fake" and a "hoax," harming her career and reputation.
After Heard's team rested their defense in this case on Tuesday, Depp's side argued for the actress' countersuit to be tossed out. With the jurors not present, attorney Ben Chew told the Fairfax, Virginia, courtroom that the basis of Heard's countersuit — three public statements made by Depp's attorney Adam Waldman in 2020 — can't be directly linked to Depp having "participated" or "authorized" the comments.
Chew also argued Heard hadn't shown actual malice, claiming Waldman had done investigating and believed his "hoax" comments to be true. (Waldman testified in the case, but he invoked the attorney-client privilege on most questions. He did not deny saying the comments. Heard testified that Waldman once threw a newspaper containing the statements at her.)
"There's no evidence that Mr. Depp even saw the statements by Mr. Waldman until he was sued," said Chew.
Heard's attorney Ben Rottenborn then argued why the countersuit should be allowed to remain. He said at one point, "There's no basis to grant a motion to strike on this agency argument, on this actual malice argument. The evidence shows that not only was Mr. Waldman Mr. Depp's agent, but that the two of them conspired to falsely accuse Amber of creating a hoax and falsify evidence that they believe supported their theory and what they wanted to achieve."
Judge Penney Azcarate then read her ruling on the matter, denying the motion to strike the countersuit. She said, "The jury may infer Mr. Waldman made these specific statements to a third party to service plaintiff [Depp] by portraying defendant [Heard] as an opposing litigant in a negative light."
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"Consequently, there is more than a scintilla of evidence that a reasonable juror may infer Mr. Waldman made the counterclaim statements while realizing they were false or with a reckless disregard for their truth. It is not my role to measure the veracity or weight of the evidence," said Azcarate, adding, "Actual malice is a question for the fact-finder."
Earlier in the trial, Heard's team tried to motion for Depp's case against her to be dismissed; Azcarate also denied that.
Back in November 2020, Depp lost his highly publicized U.K. libel lawsuit case against British tabloid The Sun for calling him a "wife-beater." The court upheld the outlet's claims as being "substantially true" and Heard testified to back up the claims. In March 2021, Depp's attempt to overturn the decision was overruled.
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Depp originally filed this Virginia case in March 2019. Heard previously asked to dismiss Depp's Virginia lawsuit, arguing that the U.K. judgment should hold sway on the proceedings in the U.S. since both lawsuits center on allegations of Depp as an abuser. In August, however, Azcarate granted Depp the right to pursue his lawsuit, denying Heard's supplemental plea to dismiss the case.
The Pirates of the Caribbean actor has testified that his "goal is the truth" as he seeks to clear his name in the trial, which is being televised live via various outlets. He has said multiple times under oath that he has never struck Heard or any woman. Because of Heard's allegations, Depp said he lost "nothing short of everything."
Heard has testified, "I wanted to clear my name. That's all I have. ... All I have is my name. I come from nothing. All I have is my integrity. All I have is my name — and that's exactly what he promised to take from me."