ACLU Says Amber Heard’s Domestic Violence Op-Ed Aimed to Capitalize on ‘Aquaman’ Press

The general counsel of the ACLU testified on Thursday that Amber Heard’s op-ed in the Washington Post about domestic violence was timed to capitalize on the release of “Aquaman.”

The op-ed alluded to Heard’s allegations against ex-husband Johnny Depp, though Depp was not named. Depp is now suing Heard for defamation, claiming that the op-ed destroyed his career and cost him a sixth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

The American Civil Liberties Union was involved in conceiving, drafting and placing the op-ed, which used Heard’s experiences to address issues including the Violence Against Women Act and sexual assault on college campuses. At the trial on Thursday, Depp’s attorneys played a video deposition of Terence Dougherty, the ACLU’s general counsel. Dougherty was asked about a Dec. 11, 2018, email from Jessica Weitz, the ACLU’s director of artist engagement, in which she wrote about the timing of the piece.

“The goal is to get this out this week to capitalize on the tremendous campaign for ‘Aquaman,’” Weitz wrote.

“Aquaman” — in which Heard starred as Mera — was due to be released on Dec. 21, 2018. Dougherty explained that the publicity campaign for the film would help get more attention for the op-ed. Heard also agreed that the timing was important, he said.

“From the ACLU’s perspective, Amber is about to receive an incredible amount of press and be in the public eye,” Dougherty said. “So what better a time would it be than now to put out this op-ed, so that it generates significant readership about our issues.”

Depp alleges that Heard fabricated her abuse allegations and used them to advance her own career at his expense. Heard denies that, and her attorneys have argued that #MeToo accusations have generally not helped the accusers’ careers.

Depp and Heard had issued a joint statement upon resolving their divorce in 2016, in which each denied making false allegations for financial gain. They also agreed to issue no further public statements. Depp has testified that he wanted to fight Heard’s claims at the time, but reluctantly took the advice of his lawyers to settle the case and move on.

Dougherty’s testimony included internal ACLU emails about the drafting of the op-ed. Earlier drafts included explicit references to Heard’s restraining order — in which she alleged domestic violence — but those references were taken out on the advice of her lawyers. In one email, Weitz wrote that Heard “would love to see a way to have that part in bold somehow put back in.” In the final draft, Heard described herself as having been “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” but did not go into any further detail about her relationship with Depp.

Heard’s lawyers have stressed that she followed her attorneys’ advice in the drafting of the op-ed.

At the time of their divorce, Depp agreed to pay Heard $7 million, which she promised to donate to the ACLU and to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, with $3.5 million going to each charity. Dougherty testified that the ACLU actually received $1.3 million of that pledge — including $350,000 directly from Heard, $500,000 from a fund tied to Elon Musk (whom Heard dated briefly), $350,000 from another fund and $100,000 from Depp. Dougherty said that the ACLU learned in 2019 that Heard was having financial problems and could not fulfill the remainder of the pledge.

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