Deshaun Watson’s situation affects three different aspects of the law. First, the criminal proceedings. Second, the civil justice system. Third, the NFL’s internal disciplinary process.
With the criminal part of the case closed (unless new criminal charges are filed against Watson), two parts remain. And they are inherently different, as explained in a statement by attorney Tony Buzbee provided to PFT early Friday.
“Recently it was reported that none of the five cases presented by the NFL involved violence, coercion or violence,” Buzbee said. “I’m not sure why this should be a surprise. Only two of the civil lawsuits we filed allege this type of behavior. The women who made these allegations have come to terms with Watson; none spoke to the NFL. The majority of the civil suits we have filed instead allege indecent exposure and assault; that is, touch without consent. We’re not currently privy to what has been presented by the NFL, but we expect to know soon enough. In any event, as I have said on numerous occasions, what the NFL does or does not do will have no bearing on the pending civil lawsuits against Watson or any additional lawsuits we plan to file against the Texans.”
It’s an important distinction. Whether the remaining plaintiffs’ rights were violated under the various civil statutes is a separate question from whether Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Buzbee’s comments also show that perhaps two of the potentially stronger allegations against Watson — the allegations of violence, coercion or coercion — did not land on the NFL’s radar screen for their efforts against Watson, presumably because the women refused to cooperate. When their cases are settled, and certainly the settlements contain confidentiality language that would compel compliance with only a formal subpoena, that information will not become part of the NFL’s case.
For this reason, it is critical that Judge Sue L. Robinson understand and explain the specific facts presented to her and which she will establish in the written decision she ultimately produces. What does she think happened? Which witness does she believe? Do any of them have credibility issues, either in relation to the content of their statements (e.g. clear contradictions in their stories) or in their behavior during the statement?
There’s also a narrow path to punishment, based on Buzbee’s charge of “indecent exposure and assault.” Will Judge Robinson consider Watson’s alleged misconduct during massage sessions a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, particularly when he’s stuck to his bed covers, catchphrase-denial never to harass, disrespect, or assault a woman?
Regardless of what happens in criminal court (no charges so far), civil court (20 cases settled and four pending), and NFL court (for lack of a better term), three can be very different things. Unless an agreement is reached, the civil proceedings will continue. The NFL’s case will be over sooner than later.