CLEVELAND, Ohio — Deshaun Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, is seeking sanctions from the attorney for the 26th plaintiff accusing Watson of sexual misconduct during a massage appointment because “it’s a sham lawsuit.”
In a phone interview Tuesday night with cleveland.com, Hardin says text messages from the plaintiff to Watson — more than 35 that were sent in the year after the alleged incident in December of 2020 but were never returned by him according to the filings — show that she wasn’t forced to perform oral sex, which she alleges in her suit.
Hardin says that the plaintiff’s attorney, Anissah Nguyen, had possession of the text messages when she filed the suit on Oct. 13th. Cleveland.com sent an email and a text message to Nguyen seeking comment.
“It’s nothing but an extortionist shakedown and we’re not going to put up with it,” Hardin said. “The days of settling lawsuits that we don’t believe in are over.”
Some of the text messages, screenshots of which are in the filings, show the plaintiff asking Watson to meet her at the Houstonian hotel, where the alleged incident took place during their lone massage appointment. Some of the requests to see him again took place just days after the alleged assault.
Other text messages from her appear to be sexually explicit about things she could do to him or vice versa.
“That obviously doesn’t sound like a person who was pressured into performing oral sex,” Hardin said.
Hardin’s associate Leah Graham, who also represents Watson, joined the call with cleveland.com and said the firm has been silent long enough on the nature of some of the cases.
“I think the days of biting our tongue and trying to be politically correct and trying to be a little bit cautious about what the evidence shows and what the facts reveal — the days of doing that are over,” said Graham. “The truth shall set us free.”
Hardin stressed that any attorney who tries to pull the same stunt in the future will have to answer for it in court. He said Watson settled 23 of the original 24 suits — one is pending — so he could get back on the field. All of those plaintiffs were represented by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who told cleveland.com he rejected five others. Nguyen told Cleveland.com earlier this month that her client had talked to Buzbee about representation.
Watson is currently serving his 11-game suspension by the NFL under the personal conduct policy, but is on track to play Dec. 4th in Houston, where most of the alleged incidents took place. He returned to the Browns facility on a limited basis Oct. 10, and can begin practicing with the team on Nov. 14th.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the fall league meeting last week that Watson has met all of the terms and conditions of his suspension to this point, including treatment for what the NFL determined was sexual assault, and that he should be reinstated for the final six games.
“He’s back (with the Browns) and as far as we’re concerned, it’s over,” Hardin said. “We’ve settled a bunch of lawsuits that we did not have any liability for — that we believe did not have merit — but we settled them in order to practically get everything over so he could go start playing football.”
He said Watson also had “to settle with the matter with the NFL. Both of those have been done now. And now, anybody that wants to file one of these lawsuits does so at their own risk because there is no such thing, and we’ll fight tooth and nail on every one of them.”
Watson, who also had to pay a $5 million fine as part of his NFL settlement, has maintained his innocence since the allegations first arose in 2020.
Hardin said Nguyen “allowed it to sound like this might be a new lawsuit. She never told anybody that this woman was interviewed by the police in April of 2021. It’s irresponsible for a lawyer to take that case. She has an ethical responsibility to investigate a case and make sure that she feels that there is a legitimate basis for bringing it. Clearly she did not, because her client has been rejected by everybody that looked into it, for over a year.”
He noted that the plaintiff was not only rejected by police, but by the Grand Jury in Harris County Texas, and by the NFL when compiling its list of credible cases.
“It’s an outrageous lawsuit designed to get a quick settlement, and those days are over,” Hardin said. “That ship has sailed.”
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