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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Amber Heard hires new legal team to appeal against $10m verdict in Johnny Depp defamation case

Amber Heard has scrapped her long-time attorney Elaine Bredehoft and hired a new legal team to appeal against the $10 million verdict in Johnny Depp’s defamation case against her.

The actress announced on Monday that she had hired high-profile attorneys David Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown from the firm Ballard Spahr to lead her appeal, in which she is aiming to overturn the multimillion-dollar ruling and avoid paying her ex-husband $10.35m (about R170m) in damages.

Bredehoft, who represented Heard, 36, in the bombshell six-week trial, is stepping down, with Ben Rottenborn, of the firm Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black, continuing to work as co-counsel.

A spokesperson for the “Aquaman” actress cited a “different court” and “new evidence” as the reasons behind the reshuffle in the legal team.

“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’,” said the spokesperson.

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“A different court warrants different representation, particularly as so much new evidence is now coming to light.”

Bredehoft, of Bredehoft Cohen Brown and Nadelhaft, described her exit as “the perfect time to pass the baton”.

She added: “I have pledged to Amber and her appellate team my complete co-operation and assistance as they move forward on a path towards success.”

Axelrod and Ward Brown specialise in First Amendment cases and recently represented “The New York Times” in its defamation lawsuit against Sarah Palin.

Palin, 58, had sued the paper over a 2017 editorial which erroneously linked her to a mass shooting and the newspaper won the case in February.

The new legal pairing have said they will argue the First Amendment implications in Heard’s case against 59-year-old “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor Depp.

They said: “We welcome the opportunity to represent Ms Heard in this appeal as it is a case with important First Amendment implications for every American.

“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.”

Heard and Depp are showing no signs of relenting in their legal battle against one another, with both filing motions to appeal against their multimillion-dollar compensations.

Depp had sued his ex-wife for defamation over a 2018 op-ed for “The Washington Post” where she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse and spoke of feeling “the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out”.

Following the televised six-week trial, a seven-strong jury decided in June that Heard had defamed the actor on all three counts, awarding him $10m in damages, and Heard $2m in compensatory damages but zero in punitive damages, leaving her with a bill to Depp she insists she cannot afford to pay.

In July, Heard filed an appeal against the payment she owes, and 24 hours later Depp filed a notice to appeal against the defamation award the jury ordered him to pay his ex-wife.

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