Yay for Depp!
On three occasions, attorneys have tried without success to get Johnny Depp’s defamation case against his ex-wife tossed out of Fairfax County Circuit Court. Today, that effort may have reached an end.
In a ruling from the bench, Judge Penney Azcarate refused to allow lawyers for actress Amber Heard, Depp’s ex-wife, to petition the Virginia Supreme Court to weigh in on legal issues at the core of her last attempt to dismiss the case.
Essentially, the attorneys wanted the state’s high court to tackle whether case law supports their contention that the court should embrace findings from a United Kingdom court that Depp, 58, abused his ex-wife on a dozen occasions. This would have ended the Virginia case, which is based upon Depp’s charge that Heard, 35, defamed him by describing herself as a domestic abuse survivor.
Filed in March 2019, Depp contends that an op-ed written by Heard and published in the Washington Post defamed him. Heard’s piece, which described the pitfalls of coming out as a domestic abuse survivor, never mentioned Depp by name. But Depp lost his “Pirates of the Caribbean” part four days after publication of the editorial. He is asking for $50 million in damages.
Heard subsequently filed a counterclaim charging that Depp orchestrated a smear campaign against her by repeatedly accusing her of perjury and being a hoax artist. Her lawsuit demands $100 million in damages. The trial is set for spring 2022.
Some legal facets of the case — for example, whether Depp is barred from relitigating issues covered in the U.K. — have not been fully decided, argued Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, Heard’s lawyer.
But Depp’s attorney, Ben Chew of Brown Rudnick LLP, asked the court to deny the motion. He pointed out that in August, Azcarate handed down a 10-page opinion rejecting the argument that the case should be dismissed because of the U.K. ruling. That case involved a lawsuit against a British tabloid and its editor over a story that described Depp as a wife beater.
In her opinion, Azcarate noted, “the defamation claim in the U.K. was based on completely different statements than the present case.” In her ruling today, Azcarate ticked through each legal standard required to send the case to the Virginia Supreme Court and concluded that the case didn’t qualify.
The judge’s decision “did not appear to be a close call,” Chew remarked.