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Yes, the ACLU is seeking more than $86,000 in legal fees from Johnny Depp

The majority of the $86,000 in reimbursement that the ACLU is requesting from Depp would cover fees for four legal experts, court documents show.
Credit: AP
Actor Johnny Depp appears in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Friday, May 27, 2022. Actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse." (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit civil rights organization, has made headlines for its role in the libel lawsuit involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. 

In 2018, two years after Heard pledged to donate $3.5 million to the ACLU, she was invited to become an ambassador and work with the ACLU on an op-ed “to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence issues,” the organization says. During closing arguments in the trial, Heard’s lawyer J. Benjamin Rottenberg said the first draft of the 2018 op-ed about Heard’s abuse allegations published in the Washington Post – which was at the center of the lawsuit – was written by the ACLU.

On June 1, a jury awarded Depp more than $10 million in his lawsuit against Heard. The jury also found that Heard was defamed by one of Depp’s lawyers, who accused her of creating a detailed hoax that included roughing up their apartment to look worse for police. The jury awarded her $2 million in damages, the Associated Press reported

Now, actor and author Greg Ellis and other social media users are claiming the ACLU is seeking more than $86,000 in legal fees after preparing documents for Depp.

THE QUESTION

Is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seeking more than $86,000 in legal fees from Johnny Depp?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, the ACLU is seeking more than $86,000 in legal fees from Johnny Depp.

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WHAT WE FOUND

In response to subpoenas from Depp’s legal team, the ACLU provided documents related to Heard’s op-ed and her donations to the organization, court documents show. Three witnesses from the ACLU also testified after receiving deposition subpoenas from Depp’s legal team.

Court records confirm that the ACLU is now suing Depp for more than $86,000 in reimbursement for preparing those documents, as social media posts claim. 

The majority of the repayment – more than $85,000 – would go toward legal fees, according to court documents. A summary of expenses shows that the ACLU employed four people to help with document production. A senior associate worked 38.7 hours at a rate of $799.50 an hour for a total of $30,940.65; a junior associate worked 78.6 hours at a rate of $500.20 an hour for a total of $39,315.72; a litigation support manager worked 17.1 hours at a rate of $336.20 an hour for a total of $5,749.02, and a litigation support analyst worked 31 hours at a rate of $295.20 an hour for a total of $9,151.20.

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Credit: Court records
ACLU legal fees in preparing documents for Johnny Depp's lawyers in lawsuit against Amber Heard

The organization is also requesting $1,096.67 in other costs that include third-party data hosting and usage fees, court documents show. The total reimbursement charges that the ACLU is seeking from Depp total just over $86,256. 

ACLU legal counsel says in court documents that attorneys reviewed over 7,500 documents and prepared 1,909 responsive documents for production in response to the subpoenas. 

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In an emailed statement, the ACLU told VERIFY that it is “entitled, under New York law, to seek reimbursement for the reasonable cost associated with complying with Mr. Depp’s subpoenas.”

“We are seeking repayment for significantly less than it cost the ACLU to produce the thousands of pages of documents which Mr. Depp’s attorneys requested,” the statement continues. 

Jessica Meyers, an attorney on Depp’s legal team, affirmed in court records that ACLU counsel sent a letter to her and Depp’s other lawyers on Dec. 21, 2021 “requesting the reimbursement of over $86,000 in fees and costs associated with their document production” for the civil trial.

In a response filed on June 1, 2022, Depp’s legal team says the request is “not only exorbitant and unreasonable, but unsupported by New York law.”

Depp’s lawyers go on to say that he “does not oppose” reimbursing the ACLU for reasonable expenses, but they are seeking “reimbursement for expenses that go far beyond what was reasonably required to comply” with his subpoenas. 

“Quite simply, New York is clear that Mr. Depp is not required to reimburse Respondents for the attorneys’ fees associated with the time spent determining what documents to withhold from the production based on privilege or relevancy,” the response says. “Indeed, even if Mr. Depp were responsible for these expenses under New York law (which he is not) the fees incurred for these tasks are unreasonable and should be substantially reduced. For these reasons, and the reasons set forth herein, the Court should deny the Respondents’ Motion.”

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