Amber Heard is replacing most of her legal team and leaning into the Constitution as she prepares to appeal a multi-million defamation verdict awarded to Johnny Depp.
Not entirely unexpected, the move by the Aquaman actress to cut loose her main attorney Elaine Bredehoft follows weeks of judicial jockeying by both of the Rum Diary co-stars to have another kick at the courtroom can with notices of intended appeals. Having seen ex-husband Depp awarded $10.4 million by a Virginia jury on June 1 after an often acerbic and explicit six-week trial, Heard has now hired David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown to represent her attempt to rescind the judgment. Ben Rottenborn of Virginia-based Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black will remain as a co-counsel.
The burly decision to bring on board the Ballard Spahr lawyers Axelrod and Brown was made public today in a court filing in the Old Dominion. The make-up of the new Philadelphia originating defense team makes it apparent that Heard’s appeal will focus on the First Amendment aspect of her legal fracas with Depp.
“We welcome the opportunity to represent Ms. Heard in this appeal as it is a case with important First Amendment implications for every American,” said Heard’s newly minted attorneys in a statement this morning. “We’re confident the appellate court will apply the law properly without deference to popularity, reverse the judgment against Ms. Heard, and reaffirm the fundamental principles of Freedom of Speech,” Axelrod and Brown added.
Specializing in the freedom of speech clause in America’s founding document, Axelrod and Brown served as counsel to the New York Times‘ successful battle against Sarah Palin’s libel suit over a sloppy June 14, 2017 editorial in the paper. In the quickly corrected article, the NYT initially drew a link between the ex-GOP VP candidate’s political action committee and a 2011 mass shooting that tragically saw six people killed and then Rep. Gabby Giffords severely wounded. Likely to be appealed, Masked Singer contestant Palin’s legal action was unanimously rejected by an Empire State jury and the judge overseeing the matter on February 15.
Former Pirates of the Caribbean star sued his ex-wife in March 2019 for $50 million over a late 2018 Washington Post op-ed under Heard’s byline. In the article, the American Civil Liberties Union ambassador spoke about becoming a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” While Heard never mentioned Depp by name in the piece in the Jeff Bezos-owned broadsheet, the litigious past Oscar nominee insisted the op-ed “devastated” his already tainted career. Though Depp said nothing during he and Heard’s restraining order loaded 2016 divorce, in his filings, Depp declared he was in fact the one who was abused in the couple’s relationship. The actor repeated that assertion on the stand during the Virginia trial.
Failing to get the matter tossed out or moved to another jurisdiction, Heard countersued Depp for $100 million in the summer of 2020. That countersuit came months before Depp’s UK libel case against the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun tabloid for calling him a “wife beater” proved a dramatic failure in November 2020. Bizarrely, the seven-person Virginia jury also handed Heard a $2 million award in compensatory damages on June 1 on one of her counterclaims in a seeming contradiction of the $15 million they first handed Depp.
With the exception of Rottenborn’s May 27 closing argument, the palpable First Amendment grounds was peculiarly almost ignored in the trial. Instead, even with Heard on the stand a number of times, Bredehoft allowed the defense to get snared in a He Said, She Said with Depp’s wily Brown Rudnick lawyers. Faced with an onslaught of social media derision, it was clearly a losing proposition for Heard, who said she was “heartbroken” when the verdict came down.
Preparing to go to appeal mere hours after the verdict was announced earlier this summer, Heard officially gave notice to the court on July 21. As was the case during the media saturated trial, Travelers Commercial Insurance are footing the bill for Heard’s legal team via the actress’ homeowners insurance policy. In this game of legal chess, Depp filed his own appeal notice on July 22. Still expected to put up the $8.3 million bond required under Virginia law for her to conduct a challenge to the verdict, Heard’s lawyers have a September 4 deadline to file their appeal.
Which means this case could be back in front of judges and a new jury when Warner Bros’ sequel Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, featuring Heard, dives into theaters on March 17, 2023. Still, whether or not, Sarah Palin actually appeals her libel loss against the Times, we will at least know tomorrow if the former Alaska Governor has won the special election in the Last Frontier state to fill the last few months of a vacated Congressional seat. At the same time, Palin is also on the ballot in her home state for a full two-year House term starting next January.
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