Amber Heard hires new lawyers to appeal verdict in Johnny Depp defamation trial

Amber Heard hires new lawyers to appeal verdict in Johnny Depp defamation trial
·3 min read

Amber Heard has hired new legal counsel to appeal the verdict reached in Johnny Depp's defamation trial.

A spokesperson for the actress announced she retained David L. Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown of law firm Ballard Spahr to lead her counsel. Ben Rottenborn will continue as co-counsel, while Elaine Charlson Bredehoft will step down. (Both Rottenborn and Bredehoft represented Heard during the six-week trial in Virginia.)

"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,'" Heard's spokesperson said. "A different court warrants different representation, particularly as so much new evidence is now coming to light."

Amber Heard
Amber Heard

STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Amber Heard in court during Johnny Depp's defamation trial against her

Axelrod is a former federal prosecutor and first-chair trial lawyer who represents individuals and companies in high-stakes civil litigation, while Brown has represented journalists, news organizations, and documentary filmmakers, among others, in First Amendment cases. The pair successfully defended The New York Times against Sarah Palin's defamation lawsuit earlier this year.

"We welcome the opportunity to represent Ms. Heard in this appeal as it is a case with important First Amendment implications for every American," Axelrod and 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."

Bredehoft said the appeal is "the perfect time to pass the baton" in her own statement. "I have pledged to Amber and her appellate team my complete cooperation and assistance as they move forward on a path towards success," she said.

Johnny Depp in court during his defamation trial against Amber Heard
Johnny Depp in court during his defamation trial against Amber Heard

STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Johnny Depp in court during his defamation trial against Amber Heard

A seven-person jury ruled in June that Heard intentionally and maliciously defamed Depp when she wrote her 2018 Washington Post op-ed and identified herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. Depp was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages (the judge later reduced the punitive damages to Virginia's statutory cap of $350,000). Heard earned a small countersuit victory of $2 million in compensatory damages.

After a motion for a mistrial was denied, Heard's team filed to appeal the verdict last month. "We believe the court made errors that prevented a just and fair verdict consistent with the First Amendment," a spokesperson for the actress said. "We are therefore appealing the verdict. While we realize today's filing will ignite the Twitter bonfires, there are steps we need to take to ensure both fairness and justice."

When reached for comment on the appeal, a spokesperson for Depp told EW, "The jury listened to the extensive evidence presented during the six-week trial and came to a clear and unanimous verdict that the defendant herself defamed Mr. Depp in multiple instances. We remain confident in our case and that this verdict will stand."

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