On Friday, attorney Rusty Hardin held his first press conference in connection with the Deshaun Watson cases. Hardin, at the outset of the press conference, acknowledged that he considered having Watson present.
“We toyed with the idea of having him here today,” Hardin said. “So I indicated to some people he might be, and we made a decision just a little while ago that it really wouldn’t add anything because I wasn’t going to allow him to answer any questions. And I think most of you all understand that. You’ve got investigations going on, not just police departments have been asked to look at it, but the NFL. There may be other agencies that look at it.”
Hardin quipped that his malpractice insurance wouldn’t let Hardin allow Watson to speak. That’s an overstatement of the connection between letting a client speak publicly when multiple potential investigations are pending and the commission of legal malpractice. Indeed, plaintiff Ashley Solis spoke publicly on Tuesday regarding her claims against Watson. Attorney Tony Buzbee didn’t commit malpractice in allowing Solis to read a statement without answering questions.
The fact that Solis has provided a name, a face, and a voice to the accusations changed the case. It makes efforts to have third parties vouch for Watson feel incomplete and hollow. Hardin’s press conference nevertheless consisted of multiple lawyers — lawyers who are paid to advocate zealously and thoroughly for Watson — proclaiming to the world that he’s incapable of such behavior.
It’s arguably too late for that tactic in the court of public opinion, and it will never be time for that tactic in a court of law, where the lawyer saying “my client didn’t do it” means absolutely nothing. Watson could have appeared at the press conference and read from a carefully crafted statement that undermines none of his interests, just as Ashley Solis did. Hardin could have refused to let Watson answer questions, just as Buzbee did with Ashley Solis.
Instead, Hardin opted to profess Watson’s innocence via those paid to represent him. Hardin, for example, explained that he sent two lawyers whom he believed to be “instinctively pro-women” to meet with Watson for two days and to report back with their impressions.
“At the end of that time,” Hardin said, “they can speak for themselves, but both of them called back to say, ‘We deeply, deeply do not believe this guy ever did anything non-consensual with any woman during any of this. He didn’t coerce them. We don’t believe he used his position. We don’t believe he intimidated them. We simply do not.’ Were there sometimes consensual encounters? Yes. And will that come out in any kind of litigation or trial? Of course it will, and that’s where it should come out.”
Other lawyers from Watson’s legal team similarly vouched for Watson.
“From the moment that I’ve spent time with this young man, I have no qualms telling you that I stand here unequivocally stating the things that he has been accused of, the things that he has been persecuted for in the public, he simply has not done,” attorney Letitia Quiñones said, before outlining a clean “credit history” for Watson and then chastising those in the media who have “jump[ed] on the bandwagon” against Watson.
Said another lawyer on Watson’s legal team, “This man is not capable of the things that are in the allegations. He is not that man. He is not a sexual predator. And I feel very strongly to say he has not forced, coerced, intimidated, or threatened any woman to do anything to him.”
Again, none of these statements will matter in court. And no one should be surprised that the lawyers paid to represent Watson will declare publicly that he didn’t do it. That’s what lawyers do.
On Friday, Watson could have appeared at the press conference. He could have read from a statement. He could have carefully avoided anything that could or would be used against him in court. He could have answered the decision of Ashley Solis to put a face and voice on the allegations with a face and voice on the defense against them.
Watson could have done it. Hardin made the tactical decision, for whatever reason, not to have Watson do it. Tying the decision to not allow Watson to answer questions or to avoid jeopardizing Hardin’s malpractice insurance doesn’t explain the strategy to opt for lawyers declaring that Watson is innocent instead of letting Watson do so himself through comments carefully written and vetted to ensure that the things Watson would have said on Friday would not have come back to haunt him later.