Entertainment Celebrity Heard lawyers ‘excised’ claims in Depp article

Heard lawyers ‘excised’ claims in Depp article

amber heard johnny depp
A court has been told Amber Heard wanted a deleted passage restored to her domestic abuse article. Photo: Getty
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Amber Heard pushed to have details of her marriage with Johnny Depp included in an op-ed piece that she wrote about domestic violence, even though her lawyers wanted those passages removed.

The article, written for The Washington Post, is now at the heart of the defamation case Depp has brought against Heard.

Jurors in the libel lawsuit heard testimony on Thursday (US time) from Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU drafted the article under Heard’s name, reflecting her role as an ACLU ambassador on gender violence issues.

Mr 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.

In the article, 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 sued in Fairfax County Circuit Court after it was published. His lawyers say the sentence was a clear reference to abuse allegations Heard levied against the Hollywood star in 2016, which Depp says are untrue.

Mr 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 breach a non-disclosure agreement she had with Depp about 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 is not clear how many personal details were in the first draft and how much Heard’s lawyers had excised.

But the final version contains little about Heard’s personal experiences.

It does not 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 Heard’s personal life unrelated to Depp.

Mr Dougherty testified that “the language that wound up in the final op-ed piece was very different from the original language” in the draft.

“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, 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 the former couple’s personal lives.

They have said that even if the jury were to believe that she was never abused by Depp, Heard should still prevail 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 Mr Dougherty’s testimony also centred on whether Heard had fulfilled a promise to donate $US3.5 million ($4.9 million) – half of her $US7 million divorce settlement with Depp – to the ACLU.

Mr Dougherty testified that the ACLU credited her with contributing $US1.3 million so far and expected the money to come in over a 10-year period. She had made no contributions since 2018.