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Amber Heard, Johnny Depp reach $1 million settlement in defamation case

The actor said she decided to settle the case after she ‘lost faith in the American legal system’

Actors Amber Heard and Johnny Depp seen at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia last spring. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
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Amber Heard announced Monday morning that she has decided to settle the defamation case brought against her by her ex-husband Johnny Depp. Heard had previously filed to appeal the June verdict, which largely sided with Depp while finding the actors had defamed each other.

“I make this decision having lost faith in the American legal system, where my unprotected testimony served as entertainment and social media fodder,” Heard wrote in a statement on Instagram. Attorneys for Depp said Monday they were “pleased to formally close the door on this painful chapter for Mr. Depp, who made it clear throughout this process that his priority was about bringing the truth to light.”

“The jury’s unanimous decision and the resulting judgement in Mr. Depp’s favor against Ms. Heard remains fully in place,” Benjamin Chew and Camille Vasquez said in a statement, adding of the settlement: “The payment of $1 [million] — which Mr. Depp is pledging and will donate to charities — reinforces Ms. Heard’s acknowledgement of the conclusion of the legal system’s rigorous pursuit for justice.”

The case stemmed from a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which Heard described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” without naming anyone specific. Depp, to whom Heard was legally married for two years, sued her for $50 million, citing defamation and claiming the article damaged his career.

After a weeks-long trial in Fairfax, Va., earlier this year that captivated social media and led to all sorts of pointed commentary online — with much of the vitriol directed toward Heard and often misogynistic in tone — a jury awarded Depp $15 million in damages. (Under Virginia law, $5 million of the punitive damages were automatically reduced to $350,000.) Heard was awarded $2 million for one of three counts in her countersuit that argued Depp attorney Adam Waldman defamed her.

Jennifer Freyd, an expert in the psychology of sexual violence, discusses the impact of Amber Heard's testimony in Johnny Depp's defamation trial. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

In November, Depp’s team appealed Heard’s $2 million award, describing that aspect of the jury’s decision as “erroneous” and questioning whether Depp could be held liable for the conduct of his attorney. Even if Depp could be, his attorneys argued, “Ms. Heard failed to present evidence that Mr. Waldman acted with actual malice.”

Heard’s team appealed the verdict later in November, with her attorneys outlining what they argued were numerous errors in the trial, including that it took place in Virginia, where The Post’s servers are located, described as “a wholly inconvenient forum with no connection to Depp or any meaningful connection to his claims.”

In her statement, Heard said she was “vindicated by a robust, impartial and fair system” in Britain, where Depp in 2020 lost a libel case against the publisher of the Sun, a tabloid that called him a “wife beater” in reference to Heard. In the United States, she argued, “I was subjected to a courtroom in which abundant, direct evidence that corroborated my testimony was excluded and in which popularity and power mattered more than reason and due process.”

Depp has returned to work since the trial. Shortly after, he announced he would be releasing an album with British guitarist Jeff Beck. He booked film projects, including a biopic of the artist Modigliani that Depp is set to direct and produce alongside Al Pacino, and has continued to serve as the face of Dior’s Sauvage cologne. He made a brief virtual cameo at the MTV Video Music Awards in August and last month stirred controversy by appearing in Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty fashion show.

Heard stated that while her choice to settle was “not an act of concession,” the case was draining her financially and emotionally. She wrote, “I am also choosing the freedom to dedicate my time to the work that helped me heal after my divorce, work that exists in realms in which I feel seen, heard and believed, and in which I know I can effect change.”