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NFL taps former attorney general to hear appeal in Deshaun Watson case

League is turning to former N.J. attorney general Peter C. Harvey, who advised the NFL during its personal conduct investigation of Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced on Thursday that he has designated former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to hear the league’s appeal of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s suspension.

Watson was issued a six-game suspension on Monday by independent disciplinary officer Judge Sue L. Robinson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy over 30 massage therapists accusing him of sexual misconduct during appointments.

The league, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, is appealing the ruling and is expected to seek a harsher punishment, one that includes a longer suspension, treatment and a fine.

In announcing the appointment of Harvey, the league highlighted his work as a federal prosecutor as well as his previous experience working with the league office.

The statement reads:

“Mr. Harvey served as the Attorney General of New Jersey and is now a partner at the Patterson Belknap firm in New York. He has also served as a federal prosecutor. He has deep expertise in criminal law, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and has advised the NFL and other professional leagues on the development and implementation of workplace policies, including the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. Mr. Harvey has also served as the Commissioner’s designee in other arbitrations.

“The NFL’s appeal addresses whether, based on the findings made by Judge Robinson, the discipline should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Mr. Harvey’s written decision ‘will constitute the full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s), and parties’ to the CBA.”

The appeal will be heard on an “expedited basis” and will focus on reviewing Robinson’s 16-page ruling, which means that there will be no evidence or testimony added to the record.

Harvey’s previous work with the NFL included serving as an advisor during the investigation of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott over domestic violence allegations. Harvey also helped the league develop and then implement its personal conduct policy, which appears to have made him a comfortable choice by Goodell to hear the appeal.

In addition, Harvey is on the Board of Directors of Futures Without Violence, a group that focuses on domestic violence, sexual assault and childhood trauma policy issues. During his time as attorney general for New Jersey, he worked to improve the state’s Sexual Assault Response Team/Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program that helps sexual assault victims feel safe to seek help with fear of being victimized by the justice system, according to’s Mary Kay Cabot.

Harvey is currently a partner with the New York City law firm of Patterson Belknap.

The NFLPA has until Friday to respond to the appeal and there is an expectation that the union will fight any additional punishment in federal court, although the fact that the steps the league is taking falls under the CBA might make it difficult for the union to prevail.