Amber Heard appeals, says Johnny Depp libel verdict will have 'chilling effect' on women

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Amber Heard believes the verdict against her in the libel trial against Johnny Depp is bound to have a ripple effect on women.

As promised, Heard appealed the June 1 jury verdict, which awarded more than $10 million in damages to Depp following a six-week spectacle trial in Fairfax County, Virginia.

She also appealed trial Judge Penney Azcarate's July 13 rejection of Heard's post-trial attempt to get the verdict overturned and a new trial ordered.

In an opening brief of her appellate obtained by USA TODAY Monday, Heard said the decision "undoubtedly will have a chilling effect on other women who wish to speak about abuse involving powerful men."

USA TODAY has reached out to attorneys for Depp.

Amber Heard appealed a Virginia jury's decision in favor of ex-husband Johnny Depp after their libel trial.
Amber Heard appealed a Virginia jury's decision in favor of ex-husband Johnny Depp after their libel trial.

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Heard argued against numerous factors in the court and the jury's decisions, down to Depp's decision to sue in Virginia rather than California, "where both parties lived and where Depp claimed to have suffered reputational harm."

"This case also should never have gone to trial because another court had already concluded that Depp abused Heard on multiple occasions. After Depp filed this case, the United Kingdom High Court of Justice ruled in a separate defamation action brought by Depp that Heard’s abuse allegations were true," the documents state, referring to Depp's libel case in 2020 against a British tabloid The Sun that he lost. The U.K. court's 129-page decision should have held precedent over the Virginia court because it dealt with the same topic, Heard's team argued.

Depp sued The Sun's publisher News Group Newspapers over an April 2018 article that called him a “wife-beater.”

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In the appellate brief, Heard's counsel argued, "Once this case did go to trial, Depp failed as a matter of law to meet his burden to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence in two ways."

"First, he did not demonstrate that Heard was aware of and intended to communicate the alleged defamatory implication that he had abused her," the documents state. "Second, he did not establish that Heard knew the alleged implication was false or subjectively entertained serious doubts about its truth. The trial court erred in declining to set aside the jury verdict and enter judgment in Heard’s favor."

Heard filed a notice to appeal in July. "We believe the court made errors that prevented a just and fair verdict consistent with the First Amendment," Heard's legal team said in a statement at the time. "We are therefore appealing the verdict.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard testified over their six-week defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard testified over their six-week defamation trial in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Under Virginia court rules, she must post a bond for $10.3 million plus 6% interest while her appeal is pending.

Depp's legal team said in a statement in July that they are not surprised nor concerned about Heard's appeal. Azcarate had rejected all of Heard's reasons in her 53-page brief demanding a do-over trial.

"The jury listened to the extensive evidence presented during the six-week trial and came to a clear and unanimous verdict that the defendant herself defamed Mr. Depp, in multiple instances," the Depp statement said. "We remain confident in our case and that this verdict will stand."

Depp's team filed its own notice of intent to appeal the jury's award to Heard of $2 million in damages after agreeing that Depp defamed her through his former lawyer.

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Depp's lawyers said in a statement that he believes it's time to move on from the trial. "But if Ms. Heard is determined to pursue further litigation by appealing the verdict, Mr. Depp is filing a concurrent appeal to ensure that the full record and all relevant legal issues are considered by the Court of Appeal," the statement said.

The jury in the case found overwhelmingly in Depp's favor that Heard defamed him when she published a column in The Washington Post in December 2018 calling herself a victim of domestic abuse. Depp's name was not mentioned in the article, but during their 2016 divorce proceedings she had accused him of abusing her.

Depp sued her for defamation in 2019, seeking $50 million. She countersued, also for defamation, seeking $100 million.

Contributing: Maria Puente, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amber Heard calls verdict in Johnny Depp case 'chilling' in appeal doc