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| Opinion |

The Most Questionable Part of Rusty Hardin's Defense Strategy For Deshaun Watson

There are parts of Rusty Hardin's defense that Tony Buzbee is probably looking forward to combating.EXPAND
There are parts of Rusty Hardin's defense that Tony Buzbee is probably looking forward to combating.
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On Monday, we had our most significant declaration from the defense side of the Deshaun Watson legal soap opera, with Rusty Hardin filing a seven page response to the allegations of the 22 plaintiffs suing the Houston Texans' quarterback. This was followed up by a statement from Hardin in which he emphatically asserted that all 22 plaintiffs are lying when they accuse Watson of varying degrees of sexual misconduct.

For his part, plaintiffs' attorney, Tony Buzbee, replied with a statement of his own, reiterating for the umpteenth time that Watson's actions with these women were not consensual and that he (and by extension, Hardin) are not telling the truth. The defense's version of the truth is outlined in their response document, which was a clear indicator that Hardin and his team have been working night and day to talk to witnesses, loved ones, and people close to the plaintiffs to try to unearth information that favors Watson.

In doing so, Hardin's defense, for now, appears to be centered around six alleged inconsistencies between the plaintiffs' claims in the lawsuit and contradictory statements made by other people. According to Hardin's latest court filing those six items are as follows:

A. After the massage therapy sessions with Mr. Watson, Plaintiffs bragged about, praised, and were excited to massage Mr. Watson.

B. Plaintiffs willingly worked, or offered to work, with Mr. Watson after the alleged incidents.

C. Plaintiffs lied about the number of sessions they actually had with Mr. Watson.

D. Plaintiffs lied about their alleged trauma and resulting harm.

E. Plaintiffs told others they wanted to get money out of Mr. Watson.

F. Plaintiffs have scrubbed, or entirely deleted, their social media accounts and the relevant evidence they contained. 

Some of Hardin's arguments appear to be persuasive on the surface. Certainly, Monday was a good day for Watson, as the tide turned somewhat back in his favor, as he looks to put all of this behind him and gain clarity on what the resumption of his football career will look like.

Whether plaintiffs said something to witnesses, offered to work for Watson even after the alleged incidents, or shut down their social media accounts are all tangible things that either did or did not happen. The slippery slope in Hardin's defense of Watson, though, is letter "D," in which Hardin claims plaintiffs lied about their trauma and regulating harm, and does so in an extremely clunky, almost offensive, way.

Let's look at each of the three plaintiffs Hardin claims lied about trauma and resulting harm, and then explain how each contention would likely get destroyed by Buzbee:

"Plaintiff Ashley Solis claimed during a news conference that she “can no longer practice the profession that [she] love[s] the most without shaking during a session.” Yet, publicly available information shows that she has provided multiple massages after the alleged incident with Mr. Watson. Indeed, not only is she still accepting clients, but according to those who have worked with her, she did not show any signs of trauma during these sessions."
So Hardin is saying here that, because Solis, who is the only plaintiff to have spoken to the media thus far, actually went back to work and massaged other people, she is lying about her trauma after massaging Watson. This ignores two things — first, it ignores fact that some people continue to perform their work, even through trauma. Solis said in her statement a couple weeks ago that part of her motivation to get into massage was to help heal others. She sees her job as providing a service to others. Second, I'm guessing Solis needed to continue to pay her bills, so sometimes you have to work through trauma and adversity to keep the checks moving in. Hardin ignores these two likelihoods.

"While Plaintiff Toi Garner claims that “[b]y the end of the massage, she was sweating” and “there was nowhere for her to go,” she neglects to mention she had multiple family members in the home and nearby during both therapy sessions."
Again, there is no absolute direct tie between the trauma that Garner was experiencing and the fact that there were "family members at home and nearby." Just because people who might be able to help rescue someone from an uncomfortable situation exist doesn't mean that a person can't experience trauma or distress. The family members are a possible remedy, but they are not an emotional elixir.

"Plaintiff Marchelle Davis alleges that “she was alone at the spa and feared for her life” during her therapy sessions with Mr. Watson. However, a security guard hired by the spa was present at the spa at all times and capable of intervening if an incident had, in fact, occurred."
Similar to Garner, Davis' allegations of trauma can certainly be true. The only thing Buzbee may have a problem with is if there was indeed a security guard and Davis says she was alone, then that's an issue. However, Davis' emotional state and the presence of a security guard should not be tied together in a direct "cause and effect" relationship.

For sure, there is a lot for Buzbee to combat, if these cases ever go to trial. However, the projection of just exactly how these three plaintiffs were processing the emotion of Watson's alleged actions feels presumptuous and a little dirty. It was an unnecessary wrinkle in a document that was largely domination by Hardin and his team.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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