When Johnny Depp won his defamation case against her, it seemed obvious that Amber Heard would appeal. There was also the issue of money: A jury in Fairfax County, Virginia, awarded the Pirates of the Caribbean actor more than $10 million, which Heard reportedly does not have.
And then there was the issue of precedent. Heard’s intention to contest the verdict is also based on the legal principle at stake. Depp sued Heard in 2018 over a Washington Post op-ed she wrote about domestic abuse that didn’t mention him once.
Heard filed an appeal request in Fairfax County Circuit Court in July. She has engaged two new lawyers for her appeal: David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown of the firm Ballard Spahr.
“For Heard’s appeal to be successful, her lawyers will need to show the appellate court that such a mistake of law or fact occurred during the trial and that the error harmed her capacity to obtain a fair trial,” Eric D. Subin, senior trial attorney and partner at Subin Associates, told Newsweek.
Depp persuaded a jury that their acrimonious divorce several years before this op-ed — when a photo of Heard’s injured face appeared on the cover of People — made it clear she was talking to him.
Throughout the six-week trial, which streamed on CourtTV, TikTok, and different livestreams, Depp contended that he was not aggressive, which he said meant that her op-ed pointing to him was untrue and defamatory.
The former married couple’s defamation trial earlier this year saw a jury primarily siding with Depp, awarding the actor $10 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. The punitive damage award was reduced to $350,000 due to a Virginia provision that limits punitive damage awards.
During the broadcast trial, both parties levied serious claims of physical and psychological abuse, which sparked unprecedented levels of discussion on social media.
A representative for Heard stated when the appeal was announced in July: “We feel the court made mistakes that prohibited a fair and just verdict by the First Amendment.
As a result, we are appealing the ruling. While we recognize that today’s filing may spark a Twitter firestorm, there are steps we must follow to assure both fairness and justice.”
Subin said that if Heard wins her appeal, “she’ll get another chance to try the case, and the trial judge in the retrial will be bound by the verdict of the appellate court.”
Meanwhile, Andrew M. Lieb of Lieb at Law noted that Heard is making a “wise move” by hiring new counsel for her appeal and needs a “fresh tone” to assure victory.
“For Heard, she needs a new tone to reverse her massive setback, and bringing in new attorneys is how to accomplish it,” Lieb told Newsweek.
The actress’s lawyer stated that she is making a “wise” and “strategic” move by appealing the verdict in her defamation case.
Jacqueline Newman, a managing partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein LLP, recently told Newsweek that “attorneys, like surgeons, have particular specializations,” adding, “If you wish to appeal a lower court’s ruling, it would be prudent to employ an attorney who specializes in appellate work.”
Depp’s lawyers initially called Heard’s plea for a retrial “outlandish” but have subsequently stated that they are “confident” that the verdict will hold.