Watson’s Attorney Compares Him to Johnny Depp & Duke Lacrosse Case But Says Watson Will Not Sue Accusers for Defamation

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking to radio hosts Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 yesterday, Deshaun Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said Watson has no plans to sue any of his accusers for defamation because he does not want to be criticized for alleged victim blaming.

Hardin also said that his firm does not recommend such suits because of strategic legal complications that make it harder to succeed in a defamation suit. Hardin is referring to Anti-SLAPP Laws which prevent people from using courts and lawsuits to try to intimidate people into not exercising their First Amendment rights. Such laws make it harder to win defamation cases and are in effect in Texas.

Regardless, Hardin claims his team and Watson have lost the PR battle and he knew they would because of the number of accusers. He feels that a person can be completely innocent despite close to two dozen accusers and each case should be judged separately on its own merits.

Watson’s legal team has admitted that Watson did in fact have sex with some of the massage therapists. Watson claims it was consensual, but the women claim it was not. Payne & Pendergast asked Hardin how damaging he thinks the admission from Watson about alleged consensual sex was in terms of shaping public opinion. Hardin said it depends on each person’s judgment of that fact.

“There are some cases that the courtroom is the only refuge for,” Hardin said, referencing the infamous Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial. Hardin claimed that if Depp had never taken the case to court, nobody would have believed him. Hardin believes that Watson, like Depp, only has a chance to prove his innocence in court through cross-examination and a full trial.

“If you are a public person and you are accused of something that is very bad conduct (if it happened) and you are accused of it in an area that society is really concerned about, in this case: assault by men against women. If you are concerned of a hot button issue and you have a public persona, the only refuge sometimes you have is in a courtroom in which somebody on your behalf challenges the accusations and lets a group of impartial people weigh the credibility of both sides. That’s really where we are here,”Hardin said.

Hardin said he wants to try each case separately on its own merits but claims the Plaintiff’s attorney Tony Buzbee won’t agree and may try to introduce evidence across cases to bolster the claims. But, Watson’s attorneys claim, the complaints on their own are “without merit.”

Leah Graham, another attorney for Watson, claims that at least one of the accusers who has come public, is doubted by her own therapist. She said depositions reveal that the particular accuser reached out to Watson multiple times after the alleged assault to schedule another massage and that her own therapist has concerns over her allegations.

Hardin said the issue now is whether it’s worth it for Watson to bite his tongue, hold his nose and settle just to get on with his life, or whether he is better served personally by fighting to the end and knowing he did everything he could. He said the sheer number of accusers makes the latter approach almost insurmountable but continued to urge everyone to wait to make up their minds until they hear both sides.

“I do want everybody to put themselves in the position of the person that’s accused,” said Hardin, referencing the infamous Duke Lacrosse case. “Remember the firestorm that happened there,” he said. “It ultimately turned out not to be true… it turned out to be fabricated.”

Shifting to the NFL investigation, Hardin revealed that the NFL investigation is over. He said Watson subjected himself to four days of questioning by very intense former sexual assault prosecutors. He claims Watson answered everything that was asked and there were no limits on what could be asked.

“They have intensely investigated,” said Hardin, referring to the NFL. “But here is what nobody has done,” he continued, “nobody has cross-examined the accusers in these cases. They have interviewed both sides of it, but they haven’t been cross-examining them.”

Hardin’s comments are in stark contrast to those of Plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee, who once accused NFL investigators of being aggressive and unprofessional with his clients.

“From the very beginning, we’ve shared everything with the NFL, we’ve shared everything with law enforcement, both the police and the District Attorney’s office” said Hardin. “They’ve had everything from the beginning.”

Hardin’s comments indicate that the NFL may be issuing a decision on whether to discipline Watson very soon. Under the new disciplinary regime, an independent arbitrator will decide whether there will be discipline. If the decision is that there should not be, then the NFL cannot change the outcome. However, if there is a decision warranting discipline, the NFL can come in and overrule the actual discipline, including any suspension. In this case, Roger Goodell would have the final say. Watson faces accusations from twenty-three women and reports indicate more lawsuits could potentially be filed in the coming weeks.