A Question Worth Millions of Dollars Involving Amber Heard, Elon Musk, and Other Celebrities
Amber Heard’s announcement in 2016 that she would give the entirety of the $7 million divorce settlement she received from Johnny Depp to the American Civil Liberties Union and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was a major public relations victory for Amber Heard in the early stages of her feud with Johnny Depp. At the time, many people thought the action was selfless, but there is no evidence that it ever came close to being done.Years later, the donation is a point of contention in the actors’ acrimonious defamation trial that is unfolding in Virginia. The attorneys for Depp are attempting to undermine Heard’s credibility by proving not only that she never made anywhere near the full donation, but that she lied under oath about having done so in a separate trial involving the couple that will take place in the United Kingdom in the year 2020. During this process, fresh material about Elon Musk’s role in the donation dispute is coming to light. At the same time, the ACLU is doing all it can to keep everything secret.
According to information obtained by Rolling Stone, the legal team representing Depp sent the first of six subpoenas to the ACLU on June 29, 2020, demanding that the organisation give over data about a supposedly $3.5 million contribution made by Heard. However, the foundation continuously put up roadblocks for Johnny Depp’s legal team, so the actor was forced to file a petition with a New York court to compel the group to hand over a trove of records. This move was granted, which resulted in the release of a deluge of evidence and testimony that provides a startling new perspective on how a renowned charitable organisation got intricately intertwined with Heard and Musk.
According to evidence presented in court in June 2017, Heard had only made a single contribution of $350,000 to the ACLU. To this day, this is the sole remittance that has come directly from her. However, she was successful in attracting a considerably larger benefactor in the form of Elon Musk, one of the wealthiest men in the world, whom she dated for around a year shortly after her divorce from Depp. Rolling Stone has looked at an email conversation that took place in the same month between Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, and Heard. Romero gushed in the email, saying, “Had a terrific meeting with Elon.” I really like that man. I love you too. ” (This and additional letters between the ACLU and Heard that were not included in the court documents in Depp v. Heard have been examined by Rolling Stone.) After one year, Musk sent the following message on Twitter: “I am one of the top contributors to @ACLU.”
In 2018, the ACLU got even more entangled with Heard, who had claimed Depp had assaulted her while their rushed marriage was falling apart. Heard and Depp had been married for just a short time (Depp has denied the claims and says he was the victim of spousal abuse). An executive of the ACLU wrote in an email that was read in court that the organisation approached the actress with the idea of writing an opinion piece about gender-based violence and suggested that “she can interweave her personal story, saying how painful it is, as a GBV survivor.” The email was read in front of the court. Even though Heard was arrested in 2009 for hitting her ex-girlfriend Tasya van Ree during a fight at an airport, the story was widely known long before she became an ACLU ambassador.Nevertheless, the organisation continued to have a close working relationship with Heard. (Heard was not prosecuted in connection with the incident, and van Ree said at a later time that the events had been “misinterpreted and over-sensationalized.”) According to testimony given during the trial for defamation, the ACLU ended up writing the op-ed and pitching it to the Washington Post. A member of the communications team wrote, “Wondering if we might interest you in a piece by Amber Heard (who, as you may recall, was beaten up during her brief marriage to Johnny Depp), on what the incoming Congress can do to help protect women in similar situations.” The Washington Post ended up publishing the piece.
Given that one of the primary goals of the organisation is to safeguard individuals’ legal rights to due process, the proposal seemed very odd. “The ACLU’s core belief is that people are innocent until proven guilty, and in 2018, these were allegations, not proof,” says Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Bazelon recently addressed the ACLU’s ties to the Heard-Depp case in an op-ed for The Atlantic. She said that the ACLU’s core belief is that people are innocent until proven guilty. “For them to write to the Washington Post and declare that Johnny Depp beat Amber Heard is the equivalent of condemning Johnny Depp before any court has had the opportunity to do so.” Their responsibility is to act with the presumption that the accused is innocent since the Constitution mandates such. So, the messages they are sending to support her seem to have nothing to do with the work they are supposed to be doing.
That opinion post that was published in the Washington Post ended up being the primary focus of Depp’s defamation lawsuit. According to testimony presented in court, the American Civil Liberties Union collaborated with Heard to ensure that the publication of the article would coincide with the release of her film Aquaman. The ACLU also provided Heard with access to legal resources in an effort to assist her in avoiding any future litigation with her ex
-husband. On the same day that the news broke in December 2018, Amber Heard took to Twitter to announce that she had been chosen as an ACLU ambassador. In her post, she said that she “couldn’t be more happy about our work to ensure that women and girls may live free from violence and prejudice.”
The ACLU argues that its participation in the op-ed was for no other reason than to bring attention to the broader issue of sexual assault and the backlash survivors face when they speak out. Critics like Bazelon say that the organization’s deal with Heard was a sleazy way to get more attention.
After Johnny Depp filed his lawsuit accusing Amber Heard of defamation against her in 2019, did the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) take any more steps to assist Amber Heard in defending herself and enhancing her reputation? Ben Chew, an attorney for Depp, stated in court that the ACLU worked actively to cover up the fact that Heard never made good on her $3.5 million payment. Chew claimed that the ACLU tried to hide the fact that Heard never made good on her donation. According to Chew, “They assisted her in lying about it.” “And it’s one thing, Your Honor, for her to stiff the ACLU, which honestly played a repulsive part in this case.” But it’s another thing entirely for her to do so. It is one thing for her to fail to fulfil her commitment to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, with sick and dying children, and that she failed to do as well; but, it is an entirely different thing for her to fail to do so.
Terence Dougherty, the general counsel and chief operating officer of the ACLU, testified in Virginia that Heard made a single donation of $350,000 in 2016, and the organisation submitted a thank-you letter referring to that transaction, dated September 9, 2016. Dougherty also testified that Heard was a member of the ACLU at the time of the transaction. But even that number, which only accounts for 10% of her very generous contribution, is shrouded in mystery. The 990 tax forms for the ACLU and the ACLU Foundation for the period beginning April 1, 2016, and ending March 31, 2017, were examined by Rolling Stone, and the publication could not locate any gift that matched that. (As a reaction, the group explains to Rolling Stone that Heard’s contribution was made via “a donor fund,” which would have kept her identity out of its ledgers and that the monetary amount might have been combined with that of other gifts.) When Heard is being cross-examined this week, it is anticipated that she will be questioned about the contributions she has made to the ACLU.
During his evidence, Dougherty also recategorized Heard’s gift as a “pledge,” and the group presented the court with an undated, unsigned pledge form that it claims was prepared in 2016. Dougherty testified that the document was made in 2016. However, the pledge form was printed on letterhead that featured the ACLU’s centennial logo, which raised the possibility that it had been created more recently (the organisation marked its 100-year anniversary in 2020, the same year that Depp’s team subpoenaed the ACLU). This suggests that the form was created more recently. According to a spokeswoman for the organisation, the group first started using the emblem in 2014 for the sake of fundraising.
The ACLU never stopped giving the impression that the actress had reached her goal of donating $3.5 million, despite the fact that she had not. The ACLU’s director of artist engagement, Jessica Herman Weitz, was quoted saying the following to a reporter for a piece that was published in The Hollywood Reporter in December 2018: “I don’t think anyone would have looked differently at her if she kept the settlement money that was due to her, but she knew that money could do more for others than it could for her.” What that money was able to accomplish to assist in protecting women and other victims of gender-based violence will go a long way toward making a difference for the people that we serve and will go a long way toward making a change in the world. That was the first time we had spoken to one another, which I think was a really courageous move on her part. It was not, “I’ll toss you a tweet,” nor something like that. It was something along the lines of, “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.”
Even weirder In an email dated September 13, 2019 to a group of recipients whose names had been redacted, the organisation intended to file an amicus brief in support of the defendant in the case of Depp v. Heard, and she asked for consent to the filing of the brief. According to a number of legal professionals who spoke with Rolling Stone, the ACLU’s involvement in what is basically a high-profile marital dispute between celebrities seems like an unusual use of the organization’s resources. In response, an ACLU spokeswoman said that sometimes the group has to take legal action as part of its Women’s Rights Project.
To this day, the ACLU has given Heard credit for contributing $1.3 million, despite the fact that the majority of that amount seems to have been made by Musk and that $100,000 came from Depp, as evidence shows. In an email conversation they had in June 2017, referring to a charitable organisation that received contributions from affluent individuals under the condition of anonymity, Romero sent the following to Heard: “We did get a $500,000 payment from Vanguard Charitable on 6/9. If this is a gift from you, I’m going to assume that you want me to count that amount toward the total commitment. The response that was heard was “Yes!” Sorry! were not supposed to pass past the vanguard. I’m in Los Angeles again to meet E, and he told me that he had a wonderful conversation with you. For his part, Dougherty testified that the $500,000 came from Musk’s account, and that a further $350,000 paid anonymously on Heard’s behalf in 2018 was most likely also made by the Tesla billionaire. Dougherty’s testimony was presented in response to testimony given by Musk. He went on to say that the actress or anybody acting on her behalf has not made any payments since the incident.
She testified in the U.K. trial that she had donated the entire $7 million to charity, but a source close to the actress claims that she has been forced to spend $6 million of her own money defending herself against Depp’s suits. Heard’s team declined to comment on the reason why she testified this way, but they did say that she had donated the entire $7 million to charity. “Ms. Heard had the full amount of the divorce settlement in her hands for well over a year prior to Johnny beginning any legal actions against her,” a spokeswoman for Johnny Depp said in response to the allegations made by Ms. Heard. She could have written a check to help ill children at the CHLA and promoted the cause of the ACLU within five minutes of receiving the money, but instead she did neither while publicly stating that it had already been done.
Despite the fact that Heard and Musk had ended their relationship by the year 2018, his connection with the ACLU is still going strong. The nonprofit organisation claims that Musk has contributed $6 million to its coffers so far, but they declined to provide Rolling Stone with more information on the timing of Musk’s payments. The group agreed with the would-be owner of Twitter when he said last week that he would replatform Donald Trump.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a possibility that Musk will comment on the ACLU controversy. The attorneys for Depp were unable to serve Musk, so he was never called in for a deposition. Heard has signalled that he does not intend to testify, despite the fact that he was placed him on her list of potential witnesses.
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