NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided on the designee set to hear the appeal regarding Judge Sue L. Robinson’s disciplinary decision involving Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Goodell has appointed Peter C. Harvey, a partner at New York-based law firm Patterson Belknap, to preside over the hearing, according to Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson.
Who is Peter C. Harvey?
Harvey “has deep expertise in criminal law, including domestic violence and sexual assault,” per a statement released by the NFL. “[He] has advised the NFL and other professional leagues on the development and implementation of workplace policies, including the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.”
The statement further explains that this will not be Harvey’s first time serving as Goodell’s designee in arbitration disputes. Harvey’s experience with the league goes beyond his work on the personal conduct policy, as he is a member of the NFL’s Diversity Advisory Committee.
Harvey also worked with the NFL in an advisory capacity during the league’s personal conduct policy investigation into Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. That investigation stemmed from allegations against Elliott for domestic violence, and he was ultimately suspended for six games.
Per ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, the NFL’s desire for the appeal to be decided on an “expedited basis” and Harvey’s expertise in the subject matter are among the reasons for Goodell’s appointment of Harvey.
Harvey, a Columbia Law alumnus, is a former federal prosecutor who served as the Attorney General of New Jersey from 2003-2006. He was the first African American to serve in the position for the state. Since that time, he has worked as a trial lawyer for Patterson Belknap in matters ranging from sports and entertainment, to hospitality, to pharmaceuticals.
His bio on Patterson Belknap’s website highlights some of his experience in sports employment legal affairs, as well as situations involving alleged sexual misconduct, including “assisting a major professional sports league and teams with employee conduct policies and related issues,” during his time as a private practitioner, and “[refining and strengthening] a ground-breaking Sexual Assault Response Team/Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SART/SANE) program to assist sexual assault victims in coming forward…” during his time as Attorney General.
What is the next step in the appeal, and what is at stake?
The NFL said in a statement on Wednesday that it would appeal Judge Robinson’s decision to suspend Watson for six games. The Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is jointly negotiated by the NFL and NFLPA, “affords the NFL or NFLPA the right to appeal the discipline imposed by the disciplinary officer,” the statement explained.
Based on the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, which states that appeals are based on “review of the existing record,” the appellate hearing will not be used to dispute or re-establish the facts of Watson’s case. No new evidence will be provided by either party, and no new testimony from witnesses will be admitted.
Rather, the league’s statement explains that its appeal “addresses whether, based on the findings made by Judge Robinson, the discipline [imposed on Watson] should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension.”
According to Wilson, the NFL is seeking an indefinite suspension of Watson, with the possibility of reinstatement following the 2022 season, and a significant fine. A season-long suspension is something the league has been seeking since Watson’s initial hearing in June.
Per Wilson, a league source predicted the possibility of an increased punishment for Watson that doesn’t quite reach the season-long level but falls closer to 10 games, as well as a multi-million dollar fine. The NFLPA has until Friday to respond to the NFL’s appeal.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that Harvey’s decision is binding and “will constitute the full, final, and complete disposition of the dispute.”