In March, as part of the fallout of one of the more acrimonious divorces in recent memory, Johnny Depp sued ex Amber Heard for defamation to the tune of $50 million, claiming that a recent op-ed she’d written for the Washington Post slandered his spotless good name and caused him to lose roles in Pirates of the Caribbean and other unnamed projects. In new court filings, Heard’s attorneys, led by Time’s Up Legal Defense co-founder Roberta Kaplan, are seeking to have the suit dismissed, claiming that the op-ed wasn’t about him, didn’t mention his name, and that some of his insistence that certain statements in it defamed him “verge on frivolous.”
The op-ed, published on December 18, was primarily about how society reacts when women speak out about domestic abuse and sexual violence. In it, Heard indeed avoids using Depp’s name, but makes a few implicit references to the shitstorm that surrounded her allegations of abuse against Depp following their divorce in 2017, writing: “[T]hen 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.” She also writes, “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
Heard writes in the piece that friends warned her she’d never work again, and compares a powerful man to a huge ship, “like the Titanic,” as she puts it. “The ship is a huge enterprise,” she wrote. “When it strikes an iceberg, there are a lot of people on board desperate to patch up holes—not because they believe in or even care about the ship, but because their own fates depend on the enterprise.”
Depp has always denied the abuse allegations, and claimed that Heard was in fact the physically abusive party, punching him “twice in the face” after he was late to her birthday party, a claim she in turn denied. In his defamation lawsuit filing, Depp claimed that the op-ed piece defamed him by making veiled references to their marriage and the abuse allegations, calling it part of a larger “hoax” and claiming it cost him millions in movie roles.
In her most recent filing, Heard and her attorneys argue that nothing in the op-ed directly references Depp, pointing out that the bulk of the piece was about the broader MeToo movement, called on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and “proposed changes to Title IX rules governing the treatment of sexual assault and harassment in schools.” In the piece, they say, Heard “does not relitigate the controversy” of their divorce “or argue that Mr. Depp did, in fact, abuse her.”
Depp’s argument, the filing claims, is that Heard “can never speak about the backlash she endured after reporting him” without implicitly re-accusing him, a position her lawyers argue is “patently unreasonable.” One specific claim in his suit is that Heard defamed him by writing that she was “getting death threats” after going public with her allegations, which Kaplan et. al argue “verges on frivolous” since “no reasonable reader” would assume that statement says anything about him specifically.
Depp’s attorneys have yet to respond to the filing; it’ll now be up to them to argue why the op-ed was in fact defamatory towards him personally.
In a statement to reporters, Roberta Kaplan wrote that the suit is intended to put an end to the “meritless bullying” of Heard “once and for all,” writing:
“There is a stark irony at the heart of this case. In her role as an advocate for women’s rights, Ms. Heard wrote an op-ed about the horrendous backlash she encountered after coming forward as a survivor of domestic abuse. Channeling the voices of the #MeToo and #Time’s Up movements, Ms. Heard called upon society to protect women from the harassment they inevitably face when they summon the courage to speak up. Although Mr. Depp is attempting to further harass our client by suing her for defamation, his claims are baseless and should be dismissed, as indicated by our recent motion. And his efforts to threaten the public release of private Information such as medical records only highlights his hypocrisy in seeking to try his case not in court, but online. Mr. Depp will soon learn, however, that our courts have strong mechanisms for dismissing baseless claims and determining the truth. Now that we are in this case, we fully intend to put an end to this meritless bullying of our client once and for all.”
We’ve contacted Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman for comment and will update if we hear back.