After seven weeks of testimony in the polarizing Virginia civil trial between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, jurors on Wednesday found that Heard defamed Depp after identifying herself as a domestic abuse survivor in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed—ruling that she now must pay him over $10 million in damages.
The one snag: Heard and several witnesses implied on the stand that the Aquaman actress may not have the immediate funds to pay her ex-husband.
While the trial hinged on harrowing allegations of repeated instances of abuse, both actors took to the stand to discuss how the trial impacted their successful acting careers—and in turn their network. Heard, as she was getting grilled about her inability to pay a $7 million pledge to the ACLU after her 2017 divorce to Depp, stressed that she did not keep her word because her ex-husband decided to file a $50 million lawsuit against her.
In the lawsuit, in which the jury agreed with Depp’s allegations on all counts, Depp alleged that Heard acted with actual malice in her Washington Post op-ed—meaning the actress knew what she had written was false and that she published the piece with reckless disregard for the truth.
“I still fully intend on honoring all of my pledges,” Heard said regarding the ACLU money. “I would love him to stop suing me so I can.”
Terence Dougherty, chief operating officer and general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), also alluded to Heard’s money problem, telling jurors that the actress last cut a check in 2018 but stopped making payments because “we learned she was having financial difficulties.” Entertainment industry expert Kathryn Arnold testified that Heard lost out on possible earnings of up to $50 million due to the negative impacts of her ongoing legal battle with Depp.
Experts canvassed by The Daily Beast, however, indicated there are several steps Heard can go through if she admits she is unable to pay the judgment. Heard’s team declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“Whenever anyone claims an inability to pay a judgment, the prevailing party is entitled to broad discovery on that point,” explained Duncan Levin, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor turned criminal defense lawyer who has previously represented Clare Bronfman. “Here, that means that Depp, now that he has won, will be likely entitled to see financial records and even take depositions on her ability to pay.”
Levin, however, noted that because the case is in Virginia, state laws prohibit punitive damages higher than $350,000. Simply put: Heard will not have to pay the full $5 million punitive damage judgment issued by the jury, but will have to pay the $10 million in compensatory damages. He added that Heard was also awarded $2 million from her $100 million countersuit, in which a jury found Depp liable over a statement his lawyer Adam Waldman made to the press calling her allegations a “hoax,” among other things.
Not to mention, Heard has at least two upcoming movies that may theoretically provide income.
“Just because she is saying she doesn’t have money doesn’t mean she doesn’t have money,” Levin added. “I fully expect he will try to enforce his rights with the judgment.”
But, as former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Daily Beast, Heard does have some time to come up with the funds to pay her ex-husband she has accused of domestic violence. In Virginia, Depp has up to 30 years to collect his judgment. He added that both sides are entitled to ask for financials if either actor claims they don’t have the funds to pay the judgments.
“I don’t think she can pay. She kept the $7 million because she had to pay for legal fees,” Rahmani added. “The question is whether Johnny Depp is really going to enforce the judgment against his ex-wife. Is he really going to take her wages? She may have to raise her bank accounts in order to do so.”
But while the former federal prosecutor noted that Depp also said on the stand he lost millions in potential income as a result of his ongoing battle with Heard, the actor has made it clear this trial was about “the truth”—and may mean that he will forfeit the judgment against his ex-wife.
“This whole trial is about more than money,” Rahmani maintained. “It’s about vindication and about setting the facts straight.”