The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided damaging testimony against actress Amber Heard on Thursday in her ongoing defamation battle with ex-husband Johnny Depp.
ACLU’s general counsel Terence Dougherty testified that his employer actually ghostwrote Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic violence and timed it to coincide with the release of her movie, “Aquaman.”
“I recall there was a conversation for optimal timing,” Dougherty said in response to a question from one of Depp’s attorneys about ensuring the op-ed would come out “just after Aquaman release.”
Emails released in court show ACLU communications strategist Robin Shulman wrote the first draft of Heard’s op-ed in November 2018, one month before it was published, the Daily Mail reported. Shulman told Heard in a message that she tried to “gather your fire and rage” and turn it into an op-ed. Dougherty was asked in his deposition whether that “rage” was related to Depp, but said it was related to “gender-based violence issues.”
Shulman also messaged Heard to tell her that ACLU’s “lawyers should review this for the way I skirted around your marriage.”
Jessica Witz, another member of the ACLU communications team, told Heard that she wanted “to make sure nothing was said in here that puts you in jeopardy with your [non-disclosure agreement” that she signed after her divorce from Depp.
Heard’s legal team then edited the op-ed to make sure it didn’t make obvious connections to Depp. The ACLU was also in charge of pitching the op-ed to various news outlets and considered The New York Times and Teen Vogue before settling on the Post.
Gerry Johnson, also part of the ACLU communications team, emailed colleagues to suggest timing the op-ed around the premier of “Aquaman.”
“Since draft turned out pretty strong and Aquaman slated to do large numbers I’m wondering what you think about it?” he asked in the email, according to the Mail.
In a December 11, 2018, email, Witz told her colleagues that Heard’s team had provided a final draft that “neutered much of her marriage and domestic violence.” Later, Witz informed her colleagues that Heard wanted to restore mention of her restraining order in the article, but it was not included.
Stacey Sullivan, yet another member of the ACLU communications team, pitched the op-ed to Washington Post editor Michael Duffy, writing in an email: “Hey Michael, wondering if we might interest you in an op-ed by Amber Heard ‘Who [sic] as you may recall was beaten up during her brief marriage to Johnny Depp.”
Dougherty also testified that Heard has not paid the organization the $3.5 million she publicly promised she would.
The Daily Wire reported in July 2021 that Depp’s attorneys successfully lobbied a judge with the New York Supreme Court to force the ACLU to prove whether Heard followed through on her pledge to donate half of her divorce settlement from Depp to the organization.
Depp and his attorneys long believed Heard never followed through on her 2016 promise. The Daily Mail reported that the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — the other charity to which Heard had promised a donation — had only received $100,000 of the promised $3.5 million.
At Depp’s defamation trial against Heard last week, the court learned that not only did the ACLU only receive $1.3 million of the money Heard promised to give them, but that she only contributed $350,000 herself. Another $100,000 came from Depp, and $500,000 is believed to have been donated on Heard’s behalf by billionaire Elon Musk, who dated Heard for a year after her divorce from Depp, Deadline reported. Dougherty said that payments stopped after 2018. “We reached out to Heard starting in 2019 for the next installment of her giving and we learned that she was having financial difficulties,” he said.
Musk, in a 2016 email to the ACLU, told them that Heard’s donation would be made in installments over 10 years, but she never signed an official pledge form stating so.