The lawsuits filed accusing Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault have garnered national attention. But, as with all legal matters, there are questions.
I sat down with KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice to discuss what could be next. Wice also gets into some KPRC2 viewers’ frequently asked questions.
When will all of this potentially end?
“It bears repeating, this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” said Wice. “We’re really only in the top of the first inning. And unfortunately for Rusty Hardin and Deshaun Watson, Tony Buzbee has put a crooked number up on the board in the court of public opinion with the sheer number of lawsuits. But as it is right now, we are in for the long haul.”
These are civil lawsuits, not criminal. What does that mean in layman’s terms, and how could that affect the case?
“We like to think that the civil and criminal justice systems are alike,” explained Wice, “but in fact, they’ve got less in common than Longhorns and Aggies. The first thing we need to talk about on the civil side is the burden of proof. It’s preponderance of the evidence, and that’s a fancy legal term. The party that shows 51% vs. 49% of the credible evidence wins. And the criminal side, we all remember from civics, beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a pretty big deal,” explained Wice.
“But more importantly, there’s a presumption of innocence on the criminal side,” said Wice. “There is no presumption of innocence on the civil side, which is why in the minds of many people, in the court of public opinion, Deshaun is presumed guilty which is not fair at all.”
“On the other hand, on the criminal side, Deshaun has the right to remain silent. He’s got the right not to testify, and the prosecution can’t use his silence against him. What a lot of our viewers may not know is that on the civil side, that doesn’t apply.”
What does this mean for Deshaun Watson as a football player, not necessarily as a citizen accused? What could this mean for him on the field?
Wice explains that there are multiple issues Watson could have to deal with, starting with Paragraph 11 of the standard player contract, which gives the Texans power.
“It (Paragraph 11) gives the club, in this case the Houston Texans, the right to void his contract if they reasonably believe his personal conduct has adversely impacted or affected the club,” explained Wice. “As a practical matter, they’re not going to do that. Why? Because they need to keep him inside the tent,” said Wice.
“They know that if he is not inside the Texans tent, so to speak, when the time comes for that now-famous trade that I think everybody is relatively certain is going to happen.... if they don’t keep Deshaun happy, what are they going to get for him? A fifty-third round pick and gift cards at Dave and Busters?”
Based on your experience, what happens next?
“There is a woman named Lisa Freel in New York who works for the NFL. She is a former chief sex crimes prosecutor for the New York County D.A.’s office in Manhattan,” explained Wice. “She is going to be conducting this (NFL) investigation, and what we know is the NFL can suspend Deshaun Watson even if he is never charged, convicted, or sentenced.”
“On the civil side, I think Rusty Hardin (Watson’s lawyer) and Deshaun will realize their protection is breaking down, they’re going to have to take a big sack, I think ultimately the civil cases are settled, I think Rusty and Deshaun write a number of checks and sign a number of Non-Disclosure Agreements,” said Wice.
Do you think this is far from over?
“Again, top of the first inning,” said Wice. “Rusty Hardin doesn’t even have the bat in his hand yet. I really think that this litigation doesn’t begin in earnest until Rusty is up at the plate, and believe me, this is not Rusty’s first rodeo. Rusty made his ‘bones,’ as they say in the mob, as a prosecutor who put more men on death row than some states, before he became a criminal defense attorney. Tony Buzbee, on the other hand, has made millions and millions and millions of dollars in mass tort litigation bringing major corporations to their knees.”
These are two high-profile attorneys. How would you describe how they operate?
“Tony Buzbee is a brawler,” Wice said. “He’s the guy that you want having your back in a rumble. Rusty Hardin is a puncher. He’s the guy you want representing you if you get charged for having been in the rumble.”