Amber Heard scraps attorney Elaine Bredehoft and hires new legal team to appeal Johnny Depp verdict

Amber Heard has taken on David L Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown who recently successfully defended The New York Times in its defamation lawsuit against Sarah Palin

Rachel Sharp
Monday 15 August 2022 16:09 BST
Johnny Depp's attorney Camille Vasquez speaks out about his appeal in Heard defamation case
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Amber Heard has scrapped longtime attorney Elaine Bredehoft and hired a new legal team to appeal the verdict in her high-stakes defamation case against Johnny Depp.

The Aquaman actor announced on Monday that she has hired high-profile attorneys David L Axelrod and Jay Ward Brown of Ballard Spahr to lead her appeal, where she hopes to overturn the multi-million-dollar verdict and avoid paying her ex-husband $10.35m in damages.

Ms Bredehoft, who represented Ms Heard in the bombshell six-week trial, is stepping down while Ben Rottenborn of Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black will continue to work as co-counsel on the team.

A spokesperson for Ms Heard cited a “different court” and “new evidence” as the reasons behind the shake-up of 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,’” the spokesperson said, in a statement shared with The Independent.

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

Ms Bredehoft, from Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Nadelhaft, described her departure as “the perfect time to pass the baton”.

“I have pledged to Amber and her appellate team my complete cooperation and assistance as they move forward on a path towards success,” she said in a statement.

Ms Heard’s new team appears to indicate a shift in approach in her long-running legal battle with the Pirates of the Caribbean star.

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

Ms Palin had sued the paper over a 2017 editorial which erroneously linked her to a mass shooting. The New York Times won the case in February.

Amber Heard testifies as US actor Johnny Depp looks on during their defamation trial in May 2022

The legal duo said they would argue the First Amendment implications in Ms Heard’s case.

“We welcome the opportunity to represent Ms Heard in this appeal as it is a case with important First Amendment implications for every American,” said Mr Axelrod and Mr Ward Brown in a joint statement.

“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.”

The shake-up comes as Mr Depp and Ms Heard are showing no signs of relenting in their legal battle against one another, with the former spouses both filing motions to appeal against their multi-million-dollar defamation awards last month.

Mr Depp 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 dramatic televised trial, a jury of seven determined in June that Ms Heard had defamed him on all three counts.

Jurors awarded Mr Depp $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages, before Fairfax County Circuit Judge Penney Azcarate reduced the latter to the state’s legal limit of $350,000.

Amber Heard and Elaine Bredehoft hug after the jury’s ruling

Ms Heard won one of her three counterclaims against her ex-husband, with the jury finding that Mr Depp – via his lawyer Adam Waldman – defamed her by branding her allegations about a 2016 incident “an ambush, a hoax”.

She was awarded $2m in compensatory damages but $0 in punitive damages, leaving the Aquaman actor $8.35m out of pocket.

In July, Ms Heard filed an appeal against the $10.35m award with her attorneys arguing that they believe “the court made errors that prevented a just and fair verdict consistent with the First Amendment”.

The following day, Mr Depp filed a notice to appeal the $2m defamation award the jury ordered him to pay his ex-wife.

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