After several weeks of silence in the Deshaun Watson litigation, lawyers dusted their back and forth last week, arguing over which of them took the first step in settlement. Regardless of whether Tony Buzbee (for the 22 plaintiffs) or Rusty Hardin (for Watson) brought up the settlement issue first, Hardin argued without question that for any eventual deal, Hardin and Watson want full transparency and Buzbee and its clients seek confidentiality.
Buzbee never refuted Hardin’s claim. It is now clear why. At the bottom of a lengthy SI.com article that delves into various issues and dynamics surrounding the Watson controversy appears Buzbee’s confirmation that he and his clients want privacy.
“These women have come under heavy criticism,” Buzbee told SI.com. “What Rusty wants is to humiliate them and make them the target of unscrupulous people. Therefore any resolution we would like confidential, and that would also require Mr. Watson to seek advice.
Usually, the defendant in a civil litigation wants – and pays for – confidentiality. Rarely does the defendant insist that everything be disclosed. It is even rarer for the claimant to want everything, including the amount of the settlement, never to be known.
The fact that the two sides argued over whether the settlement would be treated as confidential also carries a strong implicit message. There is no reason to be concerned about the confidentiality of a settlement if a settlement is not about to happen. In other words, the parties have most likely reached an agreement in principle as to how much Watson would pay each of the 22 plaintiffs before negotiations derailed over the confidentiality issue.
The fact that Buzbee wants confidentiality also implies that the amounts Watson tentatively agreed to pay were nothing to brag about.
If so, it all means that things can get back on track, if the parties can find a solution to the confidentiality issue. Perhaps the compromise involves the amounts being treated as a secret, but with the plaintiffs and Watson free to discuss the allegations, defenses, and any other matters of fact.
Either way, it looks like Buzbee and Hardin have made a lot of progress during their three weeks of public silence. If one side or the other bends, it could break the whole thing.