After several weeks of silence in the Deshaun Watson litigation, the lawyers dusted off their back and forth last week, squabbling over the question of which of them made the first move regarding settlement. Regardless of whether Tony Buzbee (for the 22 plaintiffs) or Rusty Hardin (for Watson) broached the issue of settlement first, Hardin made the unrebutted contention that, as to any eventual deal, Hardin and Watson want full transparency and Buzbee and his clients seek confidentiality.
Buzbee never refuted Hardin’s contention. It’s now clear why. Near the bottom of a lengthy item from SI.com that delves into various issues and dynamics relating to the Watson controversy appears confirmation from Buzbee that he and his clients want confidentiality.
“These women have been roundly criticized,” Buzbee told SI.com. “What Rusty wants is to humiliate them and make them targets of unscrupulous people. So any resolution we would want confidential, and it would also require Mr. Watson getting some counseling.”
Usually, the defendant in civil litigation wants — and pays for — confidentiality. It’s rare for the defendant to insist that everything be disclosed. It’s even more rare for the plaintiff to want everything, including the settlement amount, to never be known.
The fact that the two sides haggled over whether the settlement would be treated as confidential also carries a strong implicit message. There’s no reason to fuss over the confidentiality of a settlement if a settlement isn’t on the verge of happening. In other words, the parties quite possibly had a tentative deal as to the amount that Watson would pay each of the 22 plaintiffs before the negotiations went haywire on the issue of confidentiality.
The fact that Buzbee wanted confidentiality also implies that the amounts that Watson tentatively agreed to pay were nothing to brag about.
If so, all of this means that things can get back on track, if the parties can come up with a solution to the confidentiality question. Maybe the compromise entails the amounts being treated as secret, but with the plaintiffs and Watson free to discuss the allegations, defenses, and any other issues relating to the facts.
Regardless, it seems as if Buzbee and Hardin made plenty of progress during their three weeks of public silence. If one side or the other bends, that could break the whole thing wide open.