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US actress Amber Heard and Johnny Depp Image Credit: AFP

Three years after actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, for defamation over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse, the case is going to trial on Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.

Depp and Heard are both scheduled to appear in the courtroom. There are more than 100 witnesses who could testify in the trial, which could last at least six weeks.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp

Here’s what to know about the case.

How did this start?

Depp and Heard met in 2009 while filming the movie ‘The Rum Diary’; they started dating around early 2012 and got married three years later.

In May 2016, Los Angeles police were called to a domestic dispute at Depp’s Los Angeles home, but determined there was no evidence of a crime. Days later, Heard filed for divorce (citing irreconcilable differences) and a restraining order, accusing Depp of repeated domestic violence. She was granted a temporary restraining order, while Depp’s representatives vehemently denied all allegations of abuse.

The back and forth played out publicly for weeks, as Heard said in court documents that “Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me” for their entire relationship, while Depp’s team said Heard was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.”

That August, they settled their divorce for a reported $7 million right before a hearing on the restraining order was scheduled to begin, according to the Associated Press. Heard dropped the restraining order, and she and Depp released a joint statement: “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Amber Heard at Paris Fashion Week
Amber Heard

What is the case about?

In December 2018, Heard wrote an op-ed that was published in The Post with the headline, “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence - and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”

Heard urged support for women who come forward as victims of violence, and wrote that “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. ... I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” She did not mention Depp by name.

About three months later, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit asking for $50 million in damages, saying that the piece hurt his career and cost him movie roles and “incalculably (and immediately) damaged his reputation as a public figure.”

What does Depp allege?

The complaint states that Depp’s “reputation and career were devastated” after Heard’s first domestic violence accusation in 2016, but the op-ed “brought new damage”: Disney dropped Depp from the lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise four days after it published.

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Johnny Depp Image Credit: AFP

“The op-ed’s clear implication that Mr. Depp is a domestic abuser is categorically and demonstrably false. Mr. Depp never abused Ms. Heard. Her allegations against him were false when they were made in 2016. They were part of an elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career,” Depp’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. It also alleges that Heard “violently abused” Depp.

The complaint says that Heard wrote the op-ed with “actual malice” (the legal standard that public figures have to prove in defamation cases), claiming that Heard, “at the time of publication ... knew these statements were false”; and that Depp wants to clear his name and receive punitive damages.

What does Heard allege?

In April 2019, Heard filed to dismiss the case and detailed years of alleged abuse beginning in late 2012, when she said he first slapped her across the face. She alleged that Depp abused drugs and alcohol and called him “the Monster” during these times, and said she never attacked Depp except in self-defense against her and her sister.

“Johnny Depp regularly abused Amber heard - both physically and emotionally - through much of their relationship,” Heard’s lawyers wrote. “Ms. Heard eventually found herself forced to file for divorce. ... After the ensuing media frenzy - in which Mr. Depp distorted the truth for public consumption - Ms. Heard resolved to fight for the victims of domestic violence.”

After the case proceeded, Heard countersued Depp for $100 million in August 2020, saying Depp defamed her and tried to ruin her when his team said that she committed perjury and that her abuse allegations were a hoax. (A judge dropped some of the claims in the countersuit, but is allowing others to continue. The jury will hear both Depp’s claims and Heard’s counterclaims.)

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Who is going to testify?

Along with domestic abuse experts and forensic experts, there are also some recognizable names among the long list of witnesses. On Depp’s side, there’s actor Paul Bettany, who exchanged texts with Depp about Heard that showed up in the Britain trial. Heard’s list includes her ex-boyfriend and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, as well as actor James Franco, whom Heard said once inquired about bruises on her face following an alleged abusive incident with Depp.