The court has been told that Amber Heard only gave ACLU half of the promised $3.5m donation from her $7m divorce settlement from Johnny Depp.
The defamation trial between Mr Depp and Ms Heard began on Monday 11 April in Fairfax, Virginia following Mr Depp’s lawsuit against his ex-wife in March 2019. Mr Depp is arguing that she defamed him in a December 2018 op-ed published in The Washington Post titled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”.
Terence Dougherty, the chief operating officer and general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), appeared in court on Thursday via a pre-recorded deposition filmed in December of last year.
Mr Dougherty said that $350,000 was paid directly by Ms Heard, $100,000 was paid through Mr Depp, $500,000 was paid through a donor-advised fund, and that $350,000 was also paid via a donor-advised fund – for a total donation of $1.3m.
He said Ms Heard was put forward as an ambassador for the ACLU because of the pledge to provide such a large donation but he added that the full amount hadn’t been sent by the time of the deposition.
“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,” he said.
It was at this point that the idea came up to write an op-ed, which later led to this trial.
In her 2018 op-ed, Ms Heard wrote that “like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. 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,” she added at the time.
While Mr Depp isn’t named in the piece, his legal team argues that it contains a “clear implication that Mr Depp is a domestic abuser”, which they say is “categorically and demonstrably false”. Mr Depp is seeking damages of “not less than $50m”.
Ms Heard has filed a $100m counterclaim against Mr Depp for nuisance and immunity from his allegations.
Mr Dougherty said four lawyers at the ACLU reviewed the op-ed before it was sent to The Post. He added that he wasn’t involved in this process, those lawyers were women’s rights specialists.
Based on an email from Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who was connected to the donor-advised fund and who Ms Heard previously dated, it was thought that the $3.5m donation was going to be paid over ten years – a plan that was never confirmed. Documents shown revealed that Ms Heard was aware of the decade-long plan.
The ACLU spoke to Ms Heard when Mr Depp sent a cheque to the organisation on her behalf. They asked if the $100,000 donation was supposed to be part of her total donation or listed as coming from Mr Depp. She said it was part of her pledge.
Ms Heard, who was made an ACLU ambassador around the same time as her op-ed in The Post was published, December 2018, also pledged to donate part of her divorce settlement to a Los Angeles children’s hospital.
“We didn’t receive any amounts in 2019 and on,” Mr Dougherty said.
“Three years since her last contribution, what if any efforts has the ACLU made to get Amber Heard to pay?” he was asked.
“We reached out to Ms Heard starting in 2019 for the next instalment of her giving and we learned that she was having financial difficulties,” he said.
Mr Depp’s lawyers attempted to cast doubt on Ms Heard’s stated intention to donate her $7m divorce settlement to charity.
In an 18 August 2016 email from Mr Musk to Ms Heard and Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, Mr Musk laid out Ms Heard’s 10-year plan for the donation. Mr Musk said Ms Heard preferred that the money be spent on women’s issues.
“Why was Mr Musk representing this on behalf of Ms Heard?” Mr Dougherty was asked. He said he didn’t know but he assumed it was because Mr Musk was familiar with Mr Romero.