Although the rights of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson remain fully preserved in a court of law, Watson’s case has suffered in recent days in the court of public opinion. On Tuesday, attorney Rusty Hardin fired back on Watson’s behalf, with a statement in which Hardin proclaims Watson’s innocence.
We’ve posted both the Hardin statement and the testimony from Bryan Burney regarding alleged efforts by one of the plaintiffs to receive $30,000 in exchange for silence regarding consensual sexual activities with Watson. This article outlines the potential flaws lurking in and/or flowing from both documents.
First, Hardin criticizes the decision of attorney Tony Buzbee to file 14 lawsuits without naming the plaintiffs. Hardin’s attack on the effort of these persons to preserve their privacy rights as long as they can overlooks one important fact: The lawsuits specify dates and places that the massages occurred. For most if not all plaintiffs, Watson and his legal team should be able to put a name to a date and a place, which they have done as to the plaintiff who allegedly attempted to blackmail Watson. Indeed, Watson has not claimed that one or more of alleged incidents arise from massages that never occurred.
Second, Hardin never denies that sexual activity occurred during these massages. Instead, he says that “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.” This implies that consensual sex occurred, not necessarily all the time but at least some of the time, during what were supposed to be massages.
Third, although it’s entirely possible that Watson will be able to show that one of the plaintiffs had an improper profit motive, it’s very difficult at this point to say, as Hardin does, that one fabricated claim “calls into question the legitimacy of the other cases as well.” If there were only two or three or even four other cases, exposing one as false would necessarily justify intense scrutiny of the others. Here, with 16 cases filed and up to eight more (and maybe more) on the way, it’s impossible to undermine all claims simply by causing one to implode.
Fourth, Hardin says that he has received “numerous unsolicited comments” from “many licensed massage therapists” who have described Deshaun Watson as a “gentleman and a model client who never engaged in inappropriate conduct.” Setting aside the question of whether that evidence would be admissible in the trial of a civil lawsuit (it most likely wouldn’t be), no names are named. Maybe that’s the next step. For now, however, a claim from the person paid to represent Watson’s interests that, essentially, “many are saying” that Watson has never engaged in misconduct during a massage rings hollow, unless names and faces and voices are attached.
Fifth, Hardin is 10,000 percent accurate (if statistically possible) when he says that people should not rush to judgment, and that both sides are entitled to fairness. The problem, however, is that the human beings who make up the jury of the court of public opinion will rush to judgment. Hardin complains about Buzbee’s “antics” and accuses him of creating a “circus-like atmosphere.” Unsavory as Buzbee’s behavior may be, it’s been effective in getting his message out, especially with Watson’s camp falling silent for a full week, as the number of lawsuits went from one to two to 10 to 16.
Regarding Burney’s statement, it’s entirely possible that his account proves conduct that exonerates Watson as to one of the plaintiffs — and that potentially shows that she and her unnamed business manager should be prosecuted. However, Burney’s testimony tends to indirectly confirm the notion that Watson was using these massage sessions as a pretext for consensual sex. Which indirectly bolsters the claims from the plaintiffs who allege that Watson wanted more than a massage, and that they objected.
Maybe Watson will be able to show that one or more claims were fabricated. Maybe he’ll show that, for one of more of the plaintiffs, conduct that was consensual at the time became non-consensual later. It likely will be very difficult to show that all 16 (and up to 24 or more) of the woman claiming assault are telling something other than the truth.