Ex-NJ AG selected to hear NFL’s Watson appeal

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Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey has been appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeal of the disciplinary decision involving Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Harvey now works as a partner at the Paterson Belknap firm in New York. He has also served as a federal prosecutor and is currently a member of the NFL’s Diversity Advisory Committee, which evaluates diversity in the league.

The NFL is appealing Watson’s six-game suspension and seeking a stiffer penalty under the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling on Monday. Under the collective agreement, Goodell had the option to consider the grievance himself or appoint a designee.

A source told ESPN that the NFL is appealing an indefinite suspension that will be a minimum of one year (as it had previously sought), a monetary fine (which Watson was not given by Robinson) and treatment for the star quarterback to undergo.

Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The alleged meetings in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021 while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans.

Regarding the six-game suspension, Robinson wrote that “the NFL bore its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists who are identified in the report.”

While relying on precedent, Robinson attempted to distinguish between violent and nonviolent sexual behavior. Robinson concluded that Watson’s conduct “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would warrant the minimum six-game suspension” that the league had established as “by far the most commonly imposed discipline for domestic violence or gender and sexual acts.”

The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round draft picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract that was the richest deal in NFL history for any player.

ESPN’s Jake Trotter contributed to this report.

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