Professor Roy Gutterman L’00 Discusses the Potential Future of Defamation Law with People Magazine After the Depp v. Heard Verdict

Professor Roy Gutterman

Professor Roy Gutterman L’00, Director of the Tully Center for Free Speech, tells People Magazine that the recent verdict that Amber Heard defamed Johnny Depp in her December 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post was “shocking” to some.

“At this point, it is difficult to assess the long-term effect this decision will have on defamation law and whether it will chill future speakers and writers from addressing potentially controversial issues,” Gutterman said. “I think it might have a chilling effect. The defamation claim is based on a statement in a newspaper column. The weeks of testimony were at times lurid and even entertaining, but I’m not sure it adequately proved anything beyond the fact that two movie stars had an extremely volatile relationship.”

According to Heard, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote the first draft of the op-ed, and teams of lawyers vetted it before finalizing the story. Heard later testified that she did not write or approve the headline used in the online version, which differs from the one used in the print newspaper as it included the term “sexual violence.”

As a result of the trial, the jury awarded Depp $15 million in damages, which the judge later reduced to $10.35 million due to a state law in Virginia. Heard was awarded $2 million in her defamation countersuit, and plans to appeal the verdict.