Latest Rusty Hardin statement on behalf of Deshaun Watson could backfire

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Not every development in an inherently public controversy requires a response. Sometimes, the best response is no response at all.

On Tuesday, lawyer Rusty Hardin arguably would have better served his client by not responding to the compelling presentation made by Ashley Solis, the first of the 22 individuals suing Deshaun Watson for assault and harassment to attach her name to the litigation and to speak publicly regarding the situation. Hardin’s lengthy statement seeks a “gotcha” moment by attacking this specific claim made by Ashley Solis during her presentation to reporters: “People say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false.”

Hardin’s statement attempts to characterize that as a lie, and in turn Ashley Solis as a liar, by sharing chapter-and-verse details regarding settlement discussions that occurred before her lawsuit was filed three weeks ago. Although Hardin uses the term “hush money” to describe the opening settlement demand, the email messages disclosed by Hardin reveal the standard type of pre-litigation communications in which lawyers engage in an attempt to resolve potential claims without litigation by going back and forth in the hopes of reaching a consensus.

The emails confirm that the opening demand of $100,000 wasn’t made in an unethical or improper manner but in the normal way that such matters unfold, with one attorney alerting another attorney to the existence of a dispute and with both attorneys trading messages until the dispute is, or isn’t, resolved. The opening demand wasn’t eye-popping, given the usual value of civil litigation involving claims like those at issue here. Solis, through attorney Tony Buzbee, requested $100,000. This means that, through the process of negotiation, Solis and Buzbee eventually would have accepted less. Most likely, the case would have settled somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000.

The emails produced by Hardin show that the demand wasn’t being viewed as extortion or blackmail but as a legitimate effort to resolve the case.

“[I] wanted to check in on this to see if Ms. Solis wanted to either help us understand the rationale behind the $100k demand or come back with a different figure,” Scott Gaffield wrote on Watson’s behalf. “As I said to [attorney] Cornelia [Brandfield-Harvey] last week, we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong with regards to Ms. Solis, but we are nevertheless happy to continue the conversation around a reasonable settlement figure because we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation.”

In other words, Watson’s camp was willing to consider paying something to settle the case because, as Gaffield said, “we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation.”

Amazingly, Hardin’s team voluntarily disclosed this communication, which otherwise was confidential and never meant for public consumption. It shows that Watson’s representatives viewed the claims made by Ashley Solis as something that weren’t frivolous but that instead provided a useful opportunity to teach Watson a “lesson about having put himself in this situation.”

More importantly, this effort from Hardin and his team ultimately arises from a desire to paint Ashley Solis as a liar because her lawyers made an opening settlement demand of $100,000 and she now says that it’s false to say that she is doing this “just for money.”

While it’s common for lawyers to attack an adversary by painting the adversary as a liar, there’s an important thing to remember when doing so. The statement under attack needs to clearly and indisputably be a lie.

Proving that, in February, Solis would have settled the matter quietly and without the expense, delay, uncertainty, and discomfort of litigation does not show that she’s lying now, when she says she’s not doing it “just for money.” Although some of Buzbee’s comments about the cases not being about money have been disingenuous, in part because the civil justice system is founded upon the idea that justice is dispensed via the payment of money and not an eye for an eye (thus the presence of the term “civil”), the fact that Ashley Solis was willing to accept a lump-sum payment as justice for the indignity she allegedly suffered without having to go to the trouble of filing a lawsuit does not mean that she has some improper motive or that this is some sort of cash grab.

Hardin wants people to believe it is a cash grab. Now that we have seen and heard from Ashley Solis, and acknowledging the extent to which her decision to go public will disrupt her life, who would reasonably claim that this is about trying to squeeze $100,000 out of Watson?

Hardin, in many respects, was caught flat-footed by Buzbee’s assault on Watson in the court of public opinion. Although Buzbee has not performed flawlessly, Hardin’s attempt to characterize Ashley Solis as someone who is viewing her lawsuit against Watson as a ticket to a potential six-figure lottery prize misses the point, and in turn misses the mark.

Ultimately, what good does Hardin’s response do for Watson? That’s the question that should have been asked by someone on Hardin’s team. And that’s the toughest thing to do when the echo chamber begins to reverberate. There’s often no one within the bubble of zealous advocates for one side’s position who can or will step back and say, “Should we really be doing this?”

If there was someone like that on Watson’s legal team, today’s statement undoubtedly would not have been issued.

12 responses to “Latest Rusty Hardin statement on behalf of Deshaun Watson could backfire

  1. No, Buzbee has been liar since the opening public statements. He’s tripped several times en route. The fact is, she had to come public because the attack was failing on epic proportions due to this knucklehead lawyer. Sorry he destroyed his credibility, she should find a new one if she wants proper justice. Cause anything coming from his office is not viewed in any sort of positive, truthful lens.

  2. The longer this drags on the worse it is for Watson’s professional career. Just from his employment standpoint, and his bank account, and leaving aside the legal consequences (jail) of this matter, it would have been much better if he had attempted to pay her, and gotten this behind him sooner rather than later. Now it’s looking more and more like his request at a trade was an attempt to flee Texas, and perhaps he thought he could leave this behind as well. It’s simply getting worse for him by the day, and it’s only a matter of time before the league, and or team, take action.

  3. Unless someone has video, which I am guessing the odds are they don’t. If somehow some one does, he is trouble. It is hard to prove with he said she said. I do question why at least one did not go to the police at any point.

    I am betting it will end in civil court, lower burden of proof. I am not sure how the NFL goes about suspensions with criminal vs civil guilty. If you any substance problem, suspend endlessly like Josh Gordon, while if you do assault only 4 games.

    No idea what he is right now. I’ll wait until evidence is in.

    Watson, if innocent, should have followed Grant Hill NBA advice ‘As professional player, you cannot be alone with anyone, it is too risky, and too many negative issues can happen that can affect your career,’ total butchered paraphrasing.
    If guilty, dang dude you have problems

  4. Should have settled when he had a chance. He is probably going to regret not settling for the rest of his life.

  5. @Anicra Krynn, you don’t need video to prove this. Of course there isn’t going to be video as it would have been illegal for anyone to film in that setting. They now have 22 woman who have come out and to make matters worse Watsons’ lawyer gave the public another long list of people for Buzzbee to investigate and to show the public how bizarre his behavior is.

    You don’t need Grant Hill’s advice to get a massage, just don’t act like a creep to 20+ women and go through them like hot cakes. Just some common sense would have protected Watson here.

  6. This is getting exhausting… It’s the plaintiffs burden to produce evidence that show that a crime or improper action has been happened. So far, Watson’s camp is winning IMO.

  7. Funny that he mentions how “she’s a liar because she demanded hush money”, and not “she’s a liar because my client is innocent”

    Even his lawyer is hinting Deshaun is guilty. Oof

  8. This line from Watson’s lawyer ” we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong” has me thinking this isn’t just hot air. Instead of saying they didn’t believe her they are saying they believe based on what was said that he did nothing wrong. This is two totally different things. Will be interesting when we know what she accused him of it the first couple emails.

  9. It seems that a lot of people are equating Buzbee’s clownshow style with a lack of effectiveness. The fact that Watson’s career is in serious jeopardy right now is proof enough that he’s been successful thus far at making his case.

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