The Deshaun Watson situation involves three different aspects of the law. First, the criminal process. Second, the civil justice system. Third, the NFL’s in-house disciplinary process.
With the criminal portion of the case over (unless new criminal complaints are filed against Watson), two pieces remain. And they are inherently distinct, as explained in a statement attorney Tony Buzbee provided early Friday to PFT.
“It was recently reported that none of the five cases presented by the NFL involved violence, coercion or force,” Buzbee said. “I’m not sure how that’s a surprise. Only two of the civil cases we filed alleged that type of conduct. The women who made those allegations have settled with Watson; neither spoke to the NFL. The majority of the civil cases we filed instead alleged indecent exposure and assault; that is, touching without consent. We aren’t at this time privy to what was presented by the NFL but we expect we will know soon enough. In any event, as I’ve said several times, what the NFL does or fails to do has no bearing on those civil cases that remain against Watson, or the additional cases we are preparing to file against the Texans.”
It’s an important distinction. Whether the rights of the remaining plaintiffs were violated under the various civil laws becomes a different question from whether Watson ran afoul of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Buzbee’s comments also reveal that perhaps two of the potentially stronger claims against Watson — those involving allegations of violence, coercion, or force — didn’t land on the NFL’s radar screen for its effort against Watson, presumably because the women declined to cooperate. With their cases settled, and with the settlements surely including confidentiality language that would compel compliance only with a formal subpoena, that information won’t become part of the NFL’s case.
That’s why it’s critical to understand, and for Judge Sue L. Robinson to explain, the specific facts as presented to her and as determined to be established by her in the written ruling that she eventually generates. What does she believe happened? Which witnesses does she believe? Do any of them have credibility issues, either in the substance of their remarks (for example, clear inconsistencies in their stories) or in their demeanor while testifying?
There’s also a narrow path to punishment based on Buzbee’s allegation of “indecent exposure and assault.” Will Judge Robinson deem Watson’s alleged misbehavior during massage sessions a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, especially if he sticks with his blanket, buzzword denial of never harassing, disrespecting, or assaulting any woman?
Regardless, what happens in criminal court (to date, no charges), civil court (20 cases settles and four pending), and NFL court (for lack of a better term) can be three very different things. The civil cases, barring a settlement, will linger. The NFL’s case will be over, sooner than later.