Tuesday’s article by Jenny Vrentas from the New York Times takes an unprecedented look at the extent to which Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin communicated with prosecutors in Harris County, Texas regarding the investigation and possible grand jury proceedings arising from the criminal complaints filed against Watson. Based on information obtained from public records requests, Vrentas writes that Hardin began “regular dialogue” with Assistant District Attorney Johna Stallings in early 2022.
According to Vrentas, Stallings and Hardin “met at Hardin’s office, spoke on the phone 12 times, and exchanged more than two dozen text messages” in the two months before ten criminal complaints were presented to two Texas grand juries. .
Hardin called it “common practice” for criminal defense attorneys to work directly with prosecutors. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to specific questions from Vrentas regarding communications.
Hardin, according to Vrentas, “created a slide presentation pleading for Watson’s innocence and gave it to Stallings along with other documents he deemed important.” Watson did not testify before the grand jury.
“We will let our submissions for you on behalf of our client serve as a presentation to the Grand Jury,” Hardin told Stallings via email.
Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the 24 women who sued Watson in civil court — eight of whom filed criminal complaints — released a statement Tuesday evening criticizing the extent to which Hardin and the prosecutor communicated.
“Just so there’s no confusion,” Buzbee said on Instagram, “I personally contacted the Harris County District Attorney’s Office once on behalf of the victims to make available my clients and all the evidence I had collected. My team did too. They wouldn’t even talk to us! I have no idea the assistant district attorney corresponded regularly with Deshaun Watson’s attorney via e-mail and SMS; I didn’t know that the assistant district attorney actually went to [Rusty] Hardin’s office to discuss the cases; I didn’t know that Watson’s attorney had provided a PowerPoint that was to be used before the grand jury. I didn’t know this, but I now know after speaking to the investigator under oath, that the police investigative team was satisfied that Watson had committed more than ten sex crimes, or that the ADA prevented the investigators to talk to women who had sued but had not filed criminal complaints. And what I do know is that, of the multiple criminal plaintiffs in Houston, only one was asked by the ADA to appear before the grand jury, even though other victims were willing to do so. As a taxpayer, and more importantly as an advocate for these women, I feel “at home” in my own hometown and duped. I think the public and all interested people have also been duped. Makes you wonder. . . . Thank goodness for the civil justice system.
Hardin places great weight on the decision of the two grand juries not to indict Watson. The truth could very well be that Stallings knew the level of attention Hardin was devoting to the pre-grand jury process was just a taste of what she would have to endure if Watson was indicted – and if Stallings were then to develop proof beyond a reasonable doubt for cases that amount to a series of conflicting versions of events between two people without witnesses.
Common sense suggests she just didn’t want to pick a fight she was convinced she would lose. With Watson able to afford Hardin and his team of attorneys, who would aggressively defend Watson in any case and exhaust the resources and test the skills of Stallings and his staff, Stallings might have decided it just wasn’t worth it. no need to spin the wheels and possibly experience acquittal after acquittal based on the fact that a reasonable doubt is much easier to raise when the evidence is limited to the testimony of a single witness who would inevitably face damning cross-examination by a skilled litigant like Hardin.
And so, instead of exercising her broad discretion to, as the saying goes, indict a ham sandwich, Hardin apparently made a more measured and balanced presentation aimed at tricking the grand jury into not biting more than her unwilling or unable to chew.
The final result ? No indictment. All things considered, this is probably not a surprise.