The ACLU helped Amber Heard draft the Washington Post article accusing Johnny Depp of abuse after the organization was promised a $3.5m donation from her divorce – though at least $500,000 of it eventually came from a fund connected to Tesla founder Elon Musk, jurors in the Depp-Heard defamation trial heard on Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s general counsel, Terence Dougherty, testified that the organization decided to propose Heard as an ambassador for the group after Heard pledged the sizeable donation over 10 years.
“Ms Heard spoke with such clarity and expertise on issues of gender-based violence that [ACLU representatives] decided she would be an appropriate person to ask to become an ACLU ambassador,” Dougherty testified.
But of the $1.3m slice of the donation that was meant to come from Heard, $100,000 came directly from her ex-husband Depp, and, based on an email from Elon Musk, the court was told, $500,000 came from a donor-advised fund connected to Musk yet registered as a donation from Heard.
Just $350,000 was contributed from accounts directly controlled by Heard, the court heard, and another $350,000 came from an anonymous donor, whom the ACLU believed to also be Heard. By 2019, when donations attributed to Heard dried up, the ACLU representative told the court it was the group’s understanding that “she was having financial difficulties”.
“We didn’t receive any amounts in 2019 and on,” Dougherty added.
As part of the relationship the ACLU forged with Heard, the group later agreed to draft the 2018 Washington Post article in which Heard said she was “a public figure representing domestic abuse” that lies at the center of Depp’s libel claim against his ex-wife.
“Based on my review of higher drafts of the op-ed, I knew that it was referring to Johnny Depp and her marriage,” Dougherty said during the 2021 video deposition shown to the jury.
The ACLU’s communications team sought to include Heard’s “fire and rage” on the subject, but internal ACLU emails, including drafts and changes to the article, reflect the organization’s concerns that references to domestic abuse could violate the terms of the non-disclosure agreement in her divorce.
Heard, the court was told, had wanted a reference to her temporary restraining order against Depp mentioned in the article, but the reference was removed by her lawyers.
“I think that Amber’s contributions to the portion of the op-ed that talks about personal experiences is part of what informed the view that this was a strong op-ed, and the importance of women’s rights issues,” Dougherty said.
The ACLU and Heard, Dougherty added, were keen to have the article published in the week the film Aquaman was released to capitalize on her role in it.
The court was told that the ACLU’s communications department contacted the Washington Post to pitch the article, saying: “As you know, Amber Heard was beaten up by Johnny Depp during their brief marriage.”
The relationship between the ACLU and Heard, and the group’s role in drafting the article at the center of the case, comes amid reports that neither Musk nor James Franco will be testifying in the trial. The two celebrities appeared on Heard’s publicly available witness list at the start of the trial, but Musk’s attorney Alex Spiro has said his client will not testify.
The Fairfax county court in Virginia was told that Heard had “spent time” with Musk while she sought to resurrect her relationship with Depp in 2016.
This was two months after she had made allegations of domestic violence against Depp, the Pirates of the Caribbean actor, and after the couple had separated, the court heard.
“You told me a thousand times [that] you were just filling space,” Heard’s talent agent Christian Carino texted Heard about Musk in 2017. “You weren’t in love with him.”
Jurors were also told of Heard’s divorce negotiations with Depp after 15 months of marriage. Heard had initially asked for $4m before escalating her demands, said Depp’s accountant Edward White.
“It went to $5m, to $5.5m … then it went to $7m, and $500,000 to her attorneys,” White said, before adding $13.5m for community liabilities under California divorce law. The payments, which Heard requested to come tax free, would have required Depp to make $30m, White said.
White was also asked to describe Depp’s alcohol bill, which he said was $160,000 a year during Depp’s marriage and had now “dropped to virtually zero”. Malcolm Connolly, Depp’s longtime security detail and the last witness on Thursday, testified that he saw that “Amber wanted to wear the pants in this relationship”.
Connolly testified that “she could get a bit frosty at the drop of a hat”.
Over time, Connolly testified over video, he began to notice marks on Depp. “It would be scratches on his neck, maybe a fat lip in the corner. He had bruising on the eye socket. It would get more regular. Not every week, but it definitely happened, yeah.”
On the couple’s honeymoon, a train trip from Bangkok to Singapore, Connolly said Depp had marks under his right eye. “He’s walked into a door, or a door’s walked into him,” he said to laughter in the courtroom after jurors were shown a photograph. Depp, he surmised, was not enjoying himself. “He was not happy. Not happy at all,” Connolly said.
Connolly described removing Depp from the couple’s rented house in Australia in 2015 after the incident in which Depp’s finger was partially severed, allegedly after Heard threw a bottle of vodka at her husband.
“It was like a cartoon exploding cigar,” he said. “It’s flapping around. I can see bone.”
Heard, he testified, berated Depp as Connolly led him away from the house to his own apartment where he administered first aid, saying, “Fuck off! That’s what you always do, fuck off with you guys, you big man!” the court heard.
The security guard said he had seen Depp under the influence of drugs on several occasions. “I’ve seen him smoke marijuana,” Connolly said. “I have my suspicions that when he was off to the bathroom he probably does cocaine. I’ve never seen him do it.”
“He’s got a very high tolerance of any substance,” he said, adding, “I think Jack Sparrow was drunker than Johnny.” The trial continues.