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Virginia judge Bruce D. White rejected Depp's attempts to get Heard's lawsuit against him tossed, determining that she has every right to claim Depp's attorney libeled her in the press.
At issue were those aforementioned claims made by attorney Adam Waldman, who told media outlets that Heard's stories of abuse by Depp were a "hoax" and "fake." Judge White ruled that these statements could be damaging to a person's reputation and were not protected under newly passed laws bulking up a defendant's ability to claim 1st Amendment defenses.
“In light of the #MeToo Movement and today’s social climate, falsely claiming abuse would surely ‘injure [Ms. Heard’s] reputation in the common estimation of mankind,’” White ruled, noting a standard for claiming to be libeled. “Therefore, this Court finds that the statements contain the requisite ‘sting’ for an actionable defamation claim.”
White added that Waldman's statements can not be protected as opinion, because whether or not Heard was abused by Depp is a concrete fact that can be proven one way or another.
Oddly enough, Depp seems to have chosen Virginia to bring his initial lawsuit because of a then-lack of anti- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) laws. In a state with anti-SLAPP laws in place, it would be easier to get Depp's defamation lawsuit dismissed. Virginia passed its own anti-SLAPP law since the beginning of this long legal fight, and it appears to have been used to strike down Depp's move for dismissal of Heard's countersuit. White ruled that Depp's attorney's statements were not matters of public concern, meaning the public's right to know did not outweigh the damage caused to Heard's reputation.
White also dismissed Depp's claims of self-defense. He ruled that Heard's evidence that Depp was actively trying to harm her career, rallying for her to be removed from projects, and speaking in private of the damage he was willing to do, were enough to prove malicious intent.
It should also be noted that the entirety of Heard's suit was not allowed to move forward. On claims that Depp employed bots to harass and defame her on social media, Judge White could not find sufficient evidence. The entire ruling is available here.
Depp's initial lawsuit will be heard this spring with Heard's countersuit expected to go to trial later in the year.