Actress Amber Heard has hired a Philadelphia law firm after she lost a defamation trial brought by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, who claimed she lied about suffering domestic abuse during their marriage.
Heard’s team announced Monday that she hired David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown of Ballard Spahr to represent her in her appeal. In June, a jury in Virginia awarded Depp, the star of Pirates of the Caribbean, $10.4 million, saying that Heard lied about allegations of domestic abuse, specifically in a Washington Post opinion piece in which she referred to herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The six-week trial was broadcast live, drawing millions of viewers to witness the often vicious trial and to watch a tumultuous marriage laid bare. Heard told the Today show she stood by “every word” of her testimony in an interview two weeks after the verdict.
Axelrod and Brown will lead the appeal, while Ben Rottenborn of Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black will continue to represent Heard as co-counsel. Elaine Charlson Bredehoft of Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Nadelhaft is stepping down.
“We welcome the opportunity to represent Ms. Heard in this appeal as it is a case with important First Amendment implications for every American,” David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown said in a joint statement. “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.”
In a defamation suit seeking $50 million, Depp alleged that Heard’s 2018 opinion piece had damaged his reputation and career. Although Depp is not mentioned by name in the Post piece, his lawyers argued it was clear that Heard was referring to him.
The jury also found that Heard was defamed by one of Depp’s lawyers who accused her of a hoax scenario, including making a mess of the couple’s apartment so that it looked worse when police arrived. In the split verdict, the jury awarded Heard $2 million.
Throughout the trial, Heard described multiple instances of Depp’s alleged abuse, often in lurid and gut-wrenching detail. In response, Depp said that Heard had made up the claims of abuse and that, in fact, she had physically attacked him.
A spokesperson for Heard said that the appeal was once again a matter of protecting the freedom of speech.
“When it comes to protecting the fundamental right of freedom of speech, we look at the jury’s decision — to paraphrase a famous quote — not ‘as the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.’ A different court warrants different representation, particularly as so much new evidence is now coming to light,” a spokesperson for Heard said.
Earlier this year, Axelrod and Brown successfully represented the New York Times in a similar case. Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sued the Times, claiming it had damaged her reputation by linking her rhetoric to a 2011 mass shooting that left six dead and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords wounded.
The New York Times issued a correction shortly after publication.
In February, a jury rejected Palin’s claim and she lost her libel lawsuit, just days after a judge had already declared that even if the jury had sided with Palin, he would dismiss the suit.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.