Actor Amber Heard has brought on a new legal team from Ballard Spahr ahead of her appeal in the defamation case against her ex-husband, Johnny Depp.
Ballard Spahr partners David Axelrod and Jay Brown Ward lead Heard’s new team, according to a spokesperson for Heard. She plans to appeal a June 1 verdict that awarded Depp $15 million in the high-profile defamation suit.
Axelrod is a former federal prosecutor and currently serves as practice head of the securities enforcement and corporate governance litigation group at Ballard Spahr. Brown has represented news organizations, journalists, and entertainment companies in First Amendment cases for three decades.
The pair earlier this year successfully defended The New York Times in a libel suit brought by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. A jury ruled that The Times was not libel for a 2017 editorial incorrectly linking Palin’s political rhetoric to a mass shooting in Arizona.
Axelrod and Brown will serve as lead appellate counsel as Heard prepares to file her appeal. Ben Rottenborn of the newly-formed Woods Rogers Vandeventer Black will continue to represent Heard as co-counsel, while Elaine Charlson Bredehoft of Bredehoft Cohen Brown & Nadelhaft is stepping down.
“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 Axelrod and Brown in a joint statement.
Depp sued his ex-wife over an op-ed she wrote in the Washington Post where she claimed to be a survivor of domestic violence, though she didn’t specifically identify Depp as the abuser. The actor sued for defamation in Fairfax, Va., seeking $50 million in damages. Heard counterclaimed for $100 million, accusing Depp of defamation.
After a highly publicized six-week trial that made celebrities of their respective legal teams, the jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages.
“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.”