As Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston continues to do dumb things, the most troubling allegation against him continues to linger. And that most troubling allegation could soon be bubbling back to the surface.
Florida State has launched an internal investigation into the alleged sexual assault, and it intends to interview Winston. His lawyer, David Cornwell, has sent to Florida State a 13-page, single-spaced letter outlining flaws in the investigation, concerns about its fairness, and claims of extortion against the alleged victim.
The letter, a copy of which PFT has obtained, explains that the alleged victim’s lawyer met with Cornwell in February 2014 and demanded $7 million to settle her potential claims. “If we settle,” lawyer Patricia Carroll allegedly said to Cornwell, “you will never hear from my client or me again — in the press or anywhere.”
While indeed labeled as extortion by Cornwell, it’s common for potential plaintiffs in civil lawsuits to demand cash in exchange for a waiver of potential legal claims and silence. Typically, the first number requested is ridiculously high. The defendant often responds with a number that is ridiculously low, and the two sides chip away at the divide until a deal is either reached, or not.
With no settlement reached, Winston’s accuser continues to push the case against him, with a civil lawsuit apparently inevitable.
The situation has relevance to the NFL for two reasons. First, Winston likely will be carrying this specific item of baggage with him to the NFL draft in 2015 or 2016. (It’s hard to imagine him hanging around Tallahassee for another year in light of recent events.) Second, NFL players will be facing similar efforts to extort, pry, or otherwise squeeze money out of them, in light of the league’s new focus on domestic violence and sexual assault.
Suddenly, the victims of actual, perceived, exaggerated, and/or fabricated incidents of domestic violence have unprecedented power over the NFL players who allegedly engaged in misconduct. Faced with potentially lengthy suspensions with pay before trial and potentially lengthy suspensions without pay after the case ends, NFL players will have a strong incentive to write a check early, and to make it all go away.
Which in turn will attract lawyers who receive contingency fees to represent anyone who has the ability to exert that kind of leverage against someone with the resources to make a quick and large payment. Whether the payment is 25 percent, 33 percent, or 40 percent of the gross amount recovered, the best kind of contingency fee is the kind that comes without having to spend hundreds of hours preparing the case for trial and then rolling the dice in front of a judge and a jury.