The legal team for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson made their case before jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson in Delaware on Tuesday during the first day of a disciplinary hearing.
Opening statements began at 9 a.m. ET, and the second day of the proceedings will commence on Wednesday.
Day 1 of Deshaun Watson disciplinary hearing concludes
The hearings are held in Delaware, and it’s unclear how many days it will take, per a source.
Watson, represented by NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and Houston-based attorney Rusty Hardin, has been accused of multiple violations of the NFL personal conduct policy after being sued and settling 20 of 24 civil lawsuits with female massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct. Watson
The NFL investigation, led by senior vice president and special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel, a former Manhattan, NY chief sex crimes prosecutor, is pushing for an indefinite suspension of at least one year, according to league sources.
Watson’s legal team is requesting no punishment or a much lesser sanction based on precedent, evidence, and the slight consequences for NFL owners Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, and Daniel Snyder, according to sources.
This marks the first case heard by Robinson, a former U.S. District Judge now practicing law in Delaware, under a new system after the collective bargaining agreement that was amended two years ago.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection and former first-round draft pick from Clemson reached a confidential settlement with 20 of 24 plaintiffs represented by Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee. Buzbee has subsequently added the Houston Texans, Watson’s former employer, as a defendant, alleging that they “enabled” his “behavior.”
Robinson is expected to issue a ruling in advance of training camp. One source predicted the ruling could come as soon as within one week after the hearing is completed.
The NFL and the players union have previously attempted to strike a compromise on a settlement of a proposed punishment of Watson, who didn’t play last season and was paid his full $10.54 million salary after requesting a trade from the Texans. However, sources emphasized that they never came close to a deal.
The reasoning from the league behind a potential indefinite suspension, as the NFL imposed in the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal and Ray Rice’s domestic violence case, would be to give them flexibility to potentially impose further discipline in case other allegations of misconduct surfaced. Although no DNA, audio, or video evidence exists in the cases, according to multiple sources, the NFL will use text messages, depositions, and interviews to make its argument.
Under NFL rules governing personal conduct policy matters, Watson has the right to appeal to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The appeal could also be heard by another appointed officer.
When the settlement was reached, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to Pro Football Network that the settlement wouldn’t affect the ongoing league investigation, writing, “Today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee has also filed a lawsuit against the Houston Texans, lawsuit alleging they enabled Watson’s behavior by providing a membership to the Houstonian hotel and spa and giving him a nondisclosure agreement for vendors. The Texans have stated previously they had no knowledge of Watson’s alleged misconduct.
Watson was not charged by two Texas grand juries. He has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.
“I’ve been honest and I’ve been truthful about my stance and that’s I never forced anyone, I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said during a recent minicamp press conference. “So, that’s what I’ve been saying it from the beginning and I’m going to continue to do that until all the facts come out on the legal side. I have to continue to just go with the process with my legal team and the court of law.”