Last week, the lawyers handling the Deshaun Watson litigation ended up in a public back and forth regarding, among other things, which one of them made the first move toward attempting to settle the cases. And while both sides have taken the position that a settlement isn’t happening, it still could.
The fact that the talks broke down over the question of whether the settlements will be confidential (in contrast to the usual procedure, in this situation the plaintiffs want confidentiality and the defendant does not) implies that the two sides had reached an agreement on more important terms, like the amount that Watson would pay to each of the 22 plaintiffs. Indeed, there’s no reason to haggle over confidentiality unless and until it seems that the two sides will be on the same page as to the settlement amount.
So if, as it appears, the two sides have agreed on a major term like settlement amount, it could just be a matter of time before one side or the other bends on the question of what will or won’t be regarded as confidential.
Watson wants full and complete transparency. He wants the amounts known and, more importantly, he wants the 22 women to have the full and complete ability to talk to the NFL about anything and everything they allegedly experienced when interacting with him. Watson wants no one to be muzzled.
The ongoing criminal investigation complicates any civil settlement. With full transparency, a grand jury (if one ever is empaneled) would know that the claims were settled, and the grand jury would know the amount of the payments. It’s unclear whether that would make a grand jury more or less likely to indict Watson. There’s a chance that one or more grand jurors would conclude that Watson’s payment of any amount of money constitutes a recognition of guilt.
It’s still not clear what he’d be guilty of, under the applicable criminal laws. Only two of the plaintiffs contend that Watson engaged in forcible sexual misconduct. If the cases are resolved, don’t be surprised if those individuals amend their complaints to rescind those allegations.
Given the high bar for criminal convictions, it’s highly unlikely that Watson would be found guilty of anything. Until the investigation is closed, however, there’s no way to know for sure that Watson is in the clear.
That dynamic notwithstanding, it seems that the 22 cases would be settled or close to it, if attorney Tony Buzbee had agreed to full transparency on behalf of his clients. If Buzbee changes his tune (possibly at the behest of one or more of his clients, who may simply want to cash out and move on), a settlement could still happen.
In theory, it could happen at any time.