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The ACLU says Amber Heard has paid less than half of her $3.5 million donation pledge

Amber Heard has filed a countersuit against Johnny Depp, seeking $100 million in damages and saying his legal team falsely accused her of fabricating claims against Depp. The former couple are seen here in court last week.
Jim Lo Scalzo
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Amber Heard has filed a countersuit against Johnny Depp, seeking $100 million in damages and saying his legal team falsely accused her of fabricating claims against Depp. The former couple are seen here in court last week.

Actor Amber Heard hasn't fulfilled her pledge to donate $3.5 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, according to testimony in the defamation case filed by Heard's ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp.

The details from an ACLU executive about Heard's donation were quickly seen as possibly undercutting Heard's credibility with the jury hearing the case in Fairfax County, Va.

The pledge agreement calls for Heard to donate the money over the course of 10 years, starting in August 2016. But she hasn't made a payment since December 2018, ACLU Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Terence Dougherty said in recorded video testimony.

When the ACLU reached out to Heard about another installment of her gift in 2019, Dougherty added, "we learned that she was having financial difficulties."

Heard made the pledge as she ended her marriage to Depp, saying she would split $7 million between the ACLU and Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Heard has been credited with donating $1.3 million in four installments, Dougherty said. But not all of the money came directly from her: $100,000 was from Depp, and another $500,000 is from a Vanguard account the ACLU believes to be associated with Elon Musk — whom Heard dated after her breakup with Depp.

Dougherty supervises the ACLU finance, legal and other units. In his testimony, he was also asked about the ACLU's role in the opinion piece that prompted Depp to sue Heard: a 2018 op-ed published by The Washington Post in which Heard called for change in how the U.S. treats abuse survivors and urged support for the Violence Against Women Act.

Dougherty described the process that went into crafting the op-ed, which he said was reviewed by lawyers from both the ACLU and Heard's own legal team. He described email discussions about how closely the piece should mention Depp — with Heard's attorneys saying that naming him would violate the terms of a non-disclosure agreement in her divorce settlement, and the ACLU's lawyers saying the piece wouldn't have as much impact if Depp weren't mentioned.

In the final piece, Heard clearly evoked her personal experiences, but she did not refer to Depp by name. Her legal team maintains that she only told the truth in the op-ed.

In his 2019 court complaint, Depp said, "the op-ed plainly was about Ms. Heard's purported victimization after she publicly accused her former husband, Johnny Depp, of domestic abuse in 2016, when she appeared in court with an apparently battered face and obtained a temporary restraining order against Mr. Depp."

The Post piece went through numerous rounds of edits by Heard's team and the ACLU. In his testimony, Dougherty stated, "Based on my review of prior drafts of the op-ed, I knew that she was referring to Johnny Depp and her marriage."

Dougherty also said Heard wanted the article to come out around the same time as her 2018 action film Aquaman, to give a publicity boost to the cause for which she was advocating.

Depp is suing Heard for three counts of defamation, seeking at least $50 million in compensatory damages and a punitive award of at least $350,000, along with attorneys' fees and court costs.

Heard, 36, has filed a countersuit against Depp, 58, seeking $100 million in damages and saying his legal team falsely accused her of fabricating claims against Depp.

Depp's legal team is believed to be nearing the end of its presentations to the jury, and Heard's attorneys are expected to begin presenting their part of the case next week. The court will go back into session on Monday.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.