Amber Heard's lawyers revised article Johnny Depp sued over

American Civil Liberties Union drafted article under Heard's name, reflecting her role as ambassador on gender violence issues

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Actress Amber Heard pushed to have details of her marriage with Johnny Depp included in an opinion piece about domestic violence, even though her lawyers wanted the passages removed, a libel case into the article heard on Thursday.

Jurors in the lawsuit Depp filed against Heard heard testimony on Thursday from Terence Dougherty, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU drafted the article under Heard's name, reflecting her role as an ACLU ambassador on gender violence issues, the Fairfax Country Circuit Court in Virginia heard.

Mr Dougherty testified about the debate between the first draft and publication of the opinion piece in The Washington Post in December 2018, which was timed by the ACLU and Heard to coincide with the release of her movie, Aquaman.

Depp sued after publication of the article, in which Heard says that: “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

Depp's lawyers say that was a clear reference to abuse allegations she levied against him in 2016, which the Hollywood actor says are untrue.

Mr Dougherty said ACLU lawyers reviewed the article at various stages, and asked Heard's lawyers to go through the piece to ensure it did not run counter to a non-disclosure agreement she had with Depp over the couple's 2016 divorce.

During those discussions, Heard sent back an edited version approved by her lawyers that “specifically neutered much of the copy regarding her marriage”, according to an email from Jessica Weitz, an ACLU employee who co-ordinated with the actress.

But the email said Heard was looking for a way to have a deleted passage restored to the article.

The various drafts of the articles were not shown to the jury so it was not clear how many personal details were in the first draft and how much of them Heard's lawyers had excised.

But the final version contains very little about Heard's personal experiences and did not mention Depp at all.

In another passage she writes: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

Much of the article talks about legislative priorities for advocates of domestic abuse prevention. Other passages refer to parts of her personal life that were unrelated to Depp.

Evidence, a honeymoon photo of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, appears on a monitor. AFP

"The language that wound up in the final op-ed piece was very different from the original language" in the draft, Mr Dougherty said.

“It did not refer directly to Ms Heard's relationship with Johnny Depp.”

While the trial is supposed to be concerned with whether Depp was defamed in the article, very little testimony in the first three weeks, leading up to Thursday, has related to the article or its contents.

Heard's lawyers predicted at the outset of the trial that it would become a mud-slinging competition that would delve into details of the couple's personal lives.

Heard's lawyers, though, have said that even if the jury were to believe that she was never abused by Depp, she should still prevail in the lawsuit because the article is not about Depp and does not defame him.

And they said her free-speech rights allowed her to weigh in on matters of public importance, such as domestic violence.

Much of Mr Dougherty's testimony also centred on whether Heard fulfilled a promise to donate $3.5 million — half of her $7 million divorce settlement with Depp — to the ACLU.

He testified that the ACLU credits her with contributing $1.3m so far and expected the money to come in over a 10-year period, but that she has made no contributions since 2018.

Jurors also heard briefly from Depp's business manager, Ed White. Mr White said he intervened in 2016 to resolve financial difficulties for Depp, including unpaid taxes and a cash shortage.

When he blamed Heard for an excessive wine bill that featured $500 bottles of Spanish Vega Sicilia wine, her lawyers responded with questions about Depp's spending excesses, including millions of dollars to shoot journalist Hunter S Thompson's ashes out of a cannon.

Depp and Heard met while filming The Rum Diary, an adaptation of a Thompson novel.

Depp testified earlier that he and Thompson were friends, and that Depp actually found the lost Rum Diary manuscript when he was going through the writer's papers.

Updated: April 28, 2022, 11:37 PM
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