A bitter defamation lawsuit is now brewing between Johnny Depp and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after new documents revealed the non-profit’s staff penned the explosive domestic violence op-ed at the center of the actor’s $50million libel suit against ex-wife Amber Heard.
A trove of emails seen by DailyMail.com suggest Heard, 35, had minimal input in the December 2018 article which was written by an ACLU strategist then submitted to her for approval.
The draft went through multiple legal revisions, with Heard’s lawyer anxious not to mention Depp, 57, by name or breach a non-disclosure agreement in the former couple’s $7million divorce settlement.
But when it appeared in the Washington Post, Depp sued instead for libel, arguing the 1,000-word essay – entitled: ‘I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath’ – was a clear reference to their failed marriage and falsely labeled him an abuser.
Johnny Depp could be gearing up to sue the ACLU for defamation after emails reveal it was the non-profit’s staff that ex-wife Amber Heard’s explosive domestic violence op-ed at the center of the actor’s $50million libel suit against her
Emails obtained by DailyMail.com suggest Heard, 35, had minimal input in her 2018 Washington Post op-ed. Depp, 57, sued the actress after it was published, claiming the article included references to their failed marriage and falsely labeled him an abuser
Three years on, the ACLU’s involvement is threatening to drag the nonprofit deeper into the toxic lawsuit. Depp’s lawyers hint it could even see them added as a defendant.
‘This new trove of emails finally proves one of the things the ACLU has fought for years to hide: they wrote Amber Heard’s false op-ed for her and were co-conspirators with Ms Heard from the start,’ Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman told DailyMail.com.
Documents reveal ACLU staff actually came up with the idea for Heard to write the essay now titled, ‘I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath’
‘Those who scheme, write and publish defamation, even purported free speech advocates, are not immune from the consequences.’
The ACLU is already facing a May 28 deadline to respond to a barrage of subpoenas from Depp’s legal team who want to know if Heard ever honored a public 2016 pledge to donate half her divorce money – some $3.5million – to the vaunted civil rights group.
Now, previously unseen correspondence obtained by DailyMail.com reveals ACLU staff came up with the idea for the op-ed when they appointed Heard an ambassador on women’s rights in late 2018.
In an email dated November 6, ACLU communications strategist Gerry Johnson emailed Heard proposing an article attacking the Trump administration for making the US less safe for ‘survivors of genderbased violence’
The essay was assigned to ‘op-ed writer’ Robin Shulman who sent Heard a first draft on November 29. ‘It was such a total pleasure to talk with you. I tried to gather your fire and rage and really interesting analysis and shape that into op-ed form,’ Shulman wrote
The unpublished draft went through multiple legal revisions, with Heard’s lawyer anxious not to mention Depp, 57, by name. Above, the top email shows pushback from Heard and Shulman, trying to make the references to Depp more obvious
An email dated December 12, 2018, shows Amber thanked ACLU staff for ‘making sure that this article conveys it’s (sic) message and my voice’
‘I think Eric’s edits still get us 95 percent of what you want … I say send it off and dam (sic) the torpedoes ahead!’ Sean T. Walsh, a member of Heard’s communications team said in a December 12 email
Communications strategist Gerry Johnson emailed Heard’s reps on November 6 proposing an article attacking the Trump administration for making the ‘US less safe for survivors of genderbased violence.’
‘She can also, of course, mention Trump’s irresponsible attacks on Christine Blasey Ford and survivors who don’t report right away.
‘If she feels comfortable, she can interweave her personal story, saying how painful it is as a GBV survivor to witness these setbacks,’ Johnson wrote.
‘Would this be of interest? And if so, would you like for us to do the first draft (might: include a quick phone interview to get her thoughts) or would Amber prefer to start it off?’
The essay was assigned to ‘op-ed writer’ Robin Shulman who sent Heard a first draft on November 29.
‘It was such a total pleasure to talk with you. I tried to gather your fire and rage and really interesting analysis and shape that into op-ed form,’ she said.
Heard wrote to Shulman a week later to say: ‘Everyone was very impressed. Thank you for finding my voice.’
However, Heard’s lawyer Eric George sounded a note of caution days later on December 17, striking out obvious references to Depp and warning that any references to their disastrous 18-month marriage would land her in court
Another email draft showed a version of the article marked with legal edits
Her lawyer Eric George sounded a note of caution, however, striking out obvious references to Depp and warning that any mention of their disastrous 18-month marriage would land Heard in court.
‘Any reference at all to marriage or divorce – even to say either the word marriage or divorce and then to elaborate that you’re not in fact talking about it – is a technical violation,’ he wrote.
‘Would a reasonable ex – or his lawyer – object? Of course not. Will the opposing side that we’re dealing with? Likely yes.’
Heard and Shulman were keen to mention how the Aquaman actress sought a restraining order after her breakup but that was similarly nixed.
‘I think Eric’s edits still get us 95 percent of what you want … I say send it off and dam (sic) the torpedoes ahead!’ Sean T. Walsh, a member of Heard’s communications team, said in a December 12 email.
The op-ed was published on the Washington Post website six days later and appeared in print the next day.
‘Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age,’ the article read.
‘But I kept quiet – I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.
‘Then 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.’
Amber Heard, left, with her partner Bianca Butti, right, address the media outside the High Court in London after the final day of her ex-husband Johnny Depp’s libel trial on July 28, 2020
Three months later Depp filed for defamation in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the Post is printed, saying the article wrecked his reputation and got him booted from the role of Captain Jack Sparrow.
The actor is fighting an uphill battle to salvage his reputation after Britain’s High Court last year rejected a separate defamation claim against The Sun newspaper over a 2018 article labeling him a ‘wife beater’, ruling Heard’s allegations of abuse were ‘substantially true’.
Friends say he’s determined to fight on and won’t contemplate settling the Virginia case, which accuses Heard of creating a ‘hoax’ account of being a domestic violence survivor to boost her career.
In her own filings, Heard does not claim to be the sole author of the op-ed, stating that she wrote it ‘with the assistance and advice of others.’
She says the ‘op-ed speaks for itself’ and maintains her allegations of domestic violence are true.
Heard’s legal team has asked a judge to toss the case, arguing Depp’s arguments were dismantled in the earlier London proceedings.
They have also countersued for $100million, cataloging the years of alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of ‘the monster’ and accusing Waldman of smearing her in the media.
‘All the evidence has already been fully considered and decided in a legal action brought by Mr. Depp, who presented his evidence in a three week trial before a Judge in the London High Court,’ Heard’s attorney, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said in a statement.
Depp and Heard (pictured in 2011) are due back in court for upcoming defamation case in Virginia
‘The Court wrote an extensive, 129-page opinion finding against Mr. Depp. Mr. Depp’s appeals have been denied. The Judgment is final.’
Heard and Depp met a decade ago on the set of The Rum Diary back and married four years later before a now-infamous blowout fight ended their marriage in May 2016.
They agreed to a $7million divorce settlement in August of that year when Heard vowed to give the windfall to charity, splitting it between the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Back in January, however, DailyMail.com revealed correspondence between Heard and hospital management suggesting she gave them only $100,000 – way short of the promised $3.5million ‘gift’.
The ACLU was subpoenaed for the same information but has thus far refused to cooperate with multiple subpoenas.
Heard’s lawyer said she intended to fulfil her pledge ‘eventually’, blaming her expensive legal battles with Depp for the delay.
The Virginia case won’t go before a jury until next year because of a backlog of trials caused by the pandemic.