The game of public-opinion ping pong continues between the lawyers representing the opposing sides of the Deshaun Watson controversy.
On the same day that Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, took an ultra-aggressive position in officially responding to the 22 lawsuits and in making a public statement confirming that, yes, Watson and Harding believe all of the accusers are lying, Buzbee or someone connected to him leaked to Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston that at least two of the plaintiffs have agreed to meet with the NFL regarding the allegations.
Per Berman, the meetings will happen via Zoom video conference. The NFL’s top investigator in matters of this nature, Lisa Friel, has made clear her desire to speak to all accusers. The NFL has no ability to force cooperate by non-NFL employees, which continues to be one of the primary flaws of the NFL’s in-house justice system.
With cooperation from the alleged victims, Friel and the league can fully and completely investigate the situation, potentially issuing discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy. Without cooperation from the alleged victims, it becomes much more difficult to prove potential violations of the policy.
That’s why the claims against Watson arguably have more settlement value before the alleged victims talk to the league. If the cases are settled and if the alleged victims agree not to speak to anyone about the relevant facts and circumstances, the league’s ability to fully investigate will be dramatically hampered.
Berman also reports that “additional women” involved in the litigation have agreed to meet with the Houston Police Department. Again, a settlement could short-circuit a criminal investigation. The threat of a criminal investigation and potential prosecution in turn serves as leverage against Watson for a greater settlement.
If it seems odd to think of justice boiled down to haggling over the price of a new car, it shouldn’t. That’s how the legal sausage always gets made. Many factors influence the settlement of civil litigation. These 22 lawsuits have additional significant factors beyond the cost to defend the cases through trial and the estimated risk of an adverse verdict. Any competent lawyer would consider those other factors in attaching a settlement value to the cases.
Currently, the lawyers seems likely are posturing for settlement. Hardin’s attack on the plaintiffs is aimed at making them wobbly when it comes to their demands; Buzbee’s leaks are aimed at making Watson more willing to write significant checks in order to resolve the cases. The next question is whether the time has come for the two sides to begin to try to find an acceptable middle ground.