As you’ve undoubtedly already heard by now, the verdict in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation case is in, and the final tally shakes out to Heard owing Depp a bit more than $10 million for defamation of character. To make matters worse for Ms. Heard, the actress does not have the financial wherewithal to cover this debt if it’s enforced.
Speaking with Savannah Guthrie on a Thursday morning episode of “The Today Show,” Amber’s lawyer was asked point-blank whether her client can afford to pay a $10.35 million judgment.
Her lawyer’s exact reply was:
“Oh, no. Absolutely not.“
Before the trial, we pegged Amber Heard’s net worth at $2.5 million. If that number is in the ballpark, and the $10.35 million judgment is enforced, Amber could conceivably be considered to to have a negative net worth at the moment.
So, what are Amber’s options going forward?
First, let’s do a brief breakdown on that $10.35 million.
The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages from Heard, plus another $5 million in punitive damages. But the latter was reduced to $350,000 following Virginia’s caps on punitive damages.
Interestingly, the jury also awarded Heard $2 million from Depp as part of her counter-suit. That still leaves an $8.35 million net debt owed to Johnny and limited options going forward.
Heard’s attorney Elaine Charlson Bredehoft says that her client plans to appeal the ruling. Unfortunately that might not be so simple. If Amber wants to pursue an appeal, she will likely be required to post a bond for the full $10.35 million while the appeals process makes its way through the court, plus interest. Speaking to CBS News, Attorney Sandra Spurgeon put it like this:
“For an individual who doesn’t have the ability to pay the judgment and no ability to post the bond, then there is a real issue if the winning party intends to execute the judgment.”
If Heard does indeed appeal the decision and doesn’t post a bond for the amount of the award, that would place the decision on whether to execute the judgment with Depp, who of course is a much wealthier person from his decades as a high earning movie star. With his stated interest in getting “the truth” out over any dollar amount, it’s possible that he’d be willing to negotiate a lower settlement for Heard to cut her losses and drop her appeals. “He’s in the driver’s seat right now,” as Spurgeon put it, going on:
“[Depp has] already won in the court of public opinion…Maybe he’s willing to say, ‘If you drop the appeal, I’m willing to drop the judgment’.”
Depp could be willing to drop the matter and consider it a massive PR victory, but if that doesn’t happen and Heard is indeed unable to pay the judgment, two other options remain: the garnishing of future wages and even property holdings by, and declaring bankruptcy.
As a film and television star, albeit one with something of a cloud hanging over her at this point, Amber could just work really hard to pay the debt down. If the debt was enforced, Amber’s future wages could be garnished, while other assets like real estate, jewelry, and so on, could also be up for grabs. However, the law does protect some financial assets from seizure in situations such as this one, like retirement accounts.
File for Bankruptcy
Another option would be to file for bankruptcy. But contrary to what you might assume, even that isn’t as simple as you might think. Bankruptcy law prohibits debts from “willful and malicious injury by the debtor” to be discharged through insolvency, and since the jury’s ruling specifies Heard’s “defamation with malice,” attorney Brian Pastor told CBS that could trigger a problem for Heard, should she go down this route – but again, that would only apply if Depp made the decision to formally object to her discharging the ruling through bankruptcy. As Pastor points out, any action on Depp’s part following a positive verdict could be seen as vindictive by the public and end up being more trouble than it’s worth:
“The overriding issue is, with someone like Depp, is that as a practical matter you want to go back to making movies that make you a giant payday, and therefore, the most important thing for you isn’t this $10.35 million, it’s your ability to get a paycheck for $10, $20, $30 million…Ticket buyers might be turned off by him going after her for that $10.3 million.”
Elon Musk to the Rescue?
Another hail-Mary option for Amber would be… Elon Musk.
The world’s richest person happens to be another ex-boyfriend of Amber’s. He could easily use a teeny-tiny portion of his $200+ billion net worth to settle Amber’s debt. And that wouldn’t be totally out-of-character for Musk. When Amber and Johnny initially divorced, she vowed to donate the multi-million-dollar settlement to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. In the trial we learned that Elon actually ponied up around $500,000 of the $1.3 million she has donated to the ACLU so far.
Speaking on the trial over Twitter, Elon recently said:
“I hope they both move on. At their best, they are each incredible.“
Maybe Elon can help them both move on with a little $8 million payment.