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Why the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard defamation trial is being held in Virginia

The explosive defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is unfolding well outside their normal Hollywood orbit – at a court in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Mr Depp’s suit against his ex-wife alleges that she defamed him in a December 2018 op-ed published in The Washington Post titled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”.

The trial is taking place in Fairfax because the online edition of The Post is published via servers in the county, allowing Mr Depp to sue her in that area.

According to the Associated Press, Ms Heard’s attorneys tried to get the trial moved to California but Mr Depp’s lawyers said one of the reasons they decided to sue in Virginia was because of the state’s anti-SLAPP legislation, which is not as wide-ranging as in California.

SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation. “Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to provide a remedy to SLAPP suits. Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights,” according to the Reporters Committee.

In her 2018 op-ed, Ms Heard partly wrote that “like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim”.

“Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out,” she added at the time.

While Mr Depp isn’t named in the piece, his legal team argues that it contains a “clear implication that Mr Depp is a domestic abuser”, which they say is “categorically and demonstrably false”. Mr Depp is seeking damages of “not less than $50m”.

Ms Heard has filed a $100m counterclaim against Mr Depp for nuisance and immunity from his allegations.

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