Explained: Anti-SLAPP provision tied with Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial
- Johnny Depp's multimillion-dollar defamation case against Amber Heard began on Monday
- The actor is suing his ex-wife for $50 million, claiming she defamed him in an opinion piece
- Depp and Heard are squaring off in court in Fairfax County, Virginia
Johnny Depp's multimillion-dollar defamation case against Amber Heard began on Monday, with the actor suing his ex-wife for $50 million, claiming she defamed him in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post in December 2018.
Depp and Heard are squaring off in court in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the trial will be held due of its proximity to the Post's offices.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star sued Heard for libel in Virginia after The Washington Post published her opinion article in which she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. While she did not name Depp, Depp's legal team claims it was obvious who she was talking to.
The article was titled, "I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change."
According to Depp's attorneys, the op-ed caused him to lose work.
Meanwhile, Heard has filed a complaint for defamation and nuisance against her ex-husband.
Depp recently lost a defamation suit in the United Kingdom against The Sun, a British tabloid, on allegations of domestic violence towards Heard.
Last month, a judge concluded that Heard can invoke the anti-SLAPP provision in her defence. State laws differ in terms of the protection provided against SLAPP cases.
SLAPP is for Strategic Action Against Public Participation, and it means that Heard can argue to a jury that she should be protected from a libel lawsuit because the article was about a topic of public interest.
According to ABC, Heard's attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, contended that the piece addressed a significant issue—preventing domestic abuse—that is important to the public.
While Depp's attorney, Benjamin Chew, stated that anti-SLAPP statutes are not designed to interfere in private conflicts such as those between Depp and Heard.
Judge Penney Azcarate ruled against Depp, and now Heard's lawyers can use this argument (that her essay is of public interest) to seek for her immunity during the trial.
According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights."
"In terms of reporting, news organizations and individual journalists can use anti-SLAPP statutes to protect themselves from the financial threat of a groundless defamation case brought by a subject of an enterprise or investigative story,” the statement added.
Heard added, "I have always maintained a love for Johnny and it brings me great pain to have to live out the details of our past life together in front of the world. At this time, I recognize the ongoing support I've been fortunate to receive throughout these years, and in these coming weeks I will be leaning on it more than ever."
Depp and Heard started dating after meeting on the set of their 2011 film The Rum Diary, and they married in 2015. The next year, Heard filed for divorce, and their marriage was officially dissolved in January 2017.
During their divorce proceedings in Los Angeles in 2016, Aquaman actor Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse for the first time.
In 2020, Depp famously lost a libel action against The Sun, which called him a "wife-beater" in response to Heard's charges.
As the trial came to a close, the presiding judge determined that the charges made by the newspaper that the actor was abusive to Heard were "substantially true."