On March 4, the NFL conducted a reinstatement hearing for Greg Hardy, who had spent most of the previous season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List after he was accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder. Deadspin has obtained the transcript of that confidential hearing, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post.
At the hearing, Hardy’s private defense attorney was given license to present his version of events in an essentially non-adversarial process. He used the sex lives of Holder and Kristina Laurence, the principal witness for the state, to attack them and their credibility; claimed that Holder merely slipped and fell; and suggested that the judge at Hardy’s bench trial was uniquely biased against Hardy.
Those claims received only cursory testing and pushback from the NFL executives and lawyers in the room.
Attending the meeting for the NFL were Senior Vice President Adolpho Birch, Senior Labor Relations Counsel Kevin Manara, Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash, and Lisa Friel, then senior advisor, now Vice President and special counsel for investigations. All of them have law degrees, and all answer to Roger Goodell. Friel, notably, is a former Manhattan chief sex crimes prosecutor hired to help the NFL deal with domestic violence.
Representing Hardy were his attorney Frank Maister, and NFLPA associate general counsel Heather McPhee.
You can read for yourself the 126-page transcript of Hardy’s hearing below, but we’ll pull out what we think are some of the more telling moments of the proceedings, the majority of which were dominated by Maister.
Holder told police that Hardy “threw me into the bathroom, I hit the back of the shower wall and fell into the bathtub where he pulled me out,” before yanking her out of the bathroom by her hair. Maister’s slapstick version, which was never presented in court, argues that Holder slipped on a bathroom scale.
At no point does anyone, most notably Friel, whose job once made her essentially an advocate for domestic violence victims, pressure either Maister or Hardy on the broader narrative that Hardy was himself the victim this night. The closest they come on this particular point is Birch asking Hardy for confirmation of Maister’s version of events:
MR. BIRCH: But just to be clear, it’s your — and I won’t call it testimony, but it’s your position that you had zero part in her getting from standing up to in that bathtub?
MR. HARDY: Yes, sir, the whole time I was standing right up against that door, holding the door open with my foot, not even inside the bathroom.
Here’s Pash’s attempt at questioning this narrative:
MR. PASH: May I just ask, you were there the whole time. Did you see how she fell into the bathtub or how she ended up in the bathtub?
MR. HARDY: No, sir. It was fast. I just, I saw her end up in the bath tub, but just looking back and forth with Sammy there, talking to him trying to get him up and get her ready to go out. I heard the noise, looked back and she had fallen into the tub.
MR. PASH: Okay.
During the entire section about that scale, Friel—the former prosecutor—asked nothing at all. (Friel would meet with Maister and Hardy again on March 10. It’s not known what was discussed at that meeting.)
At one point, Maister speaks uninterrupted for 13 pages of the transcript. He continues to paint Holder as the guilty party in the fight, accusing her of “punching, kicking, scratching, hitting” Hardy as he tries to pull her out of the bathroom because “he’s worried she’s going to kill herself in his apartment.” He portrays her actions after leaving Hardy’s home as those of a person trying to avoid the police, and who must not be that injured after all.
Much of Maister’s argument here focuses on Holder’s left elbow, and how it does not appear injured on video. When asked to produce his evidence regarding that elbow (see below), Maister says he forgot to bring it to the hearing. It would show that Holder suffered a sprain.
Maister went on to attack Mecklenburg District Judge Rebecca Thorne Tin, who convicted Hardy of assault, saying she couldn’t have ruled fairly because she had once co-chaired the Harvard Battered Women’s Advocacy Project while she was in law school.
Slut-shaming as a tactic is an all too common procedure in actual courtrooms, particularly in jury trials; in his bench trial, Hardy’s other lawyer, Chris Fialko, asked Holder, “What really happened is that Greg Hardy refused to sleep with you, refused to reconcile with you, and you went berserk didn’t you?” (Holder said no), and later had his client testify about how many times he and Holder hooked up after their breakup. It’s less clear what use it serves in a closed-door hearing with NFL and NFLPA officials. But Maister not only brings up Holder’s sexual proclivities, he goes further than his counterpart in Hardy’s bench trial.
Here, Maister explains how Holder was begging Hardy to reconcile, and he decides those in the room need to know that oral sex was involved.
It goes on like this, with Maister describing Holder’s character in a way apparently meant to minimize or nullify the beating that Hardy allegedly gave her. On page 20, Maister, speaking for Hardy, says that Holder was only interested in “the Versace dresses and the Gucci shoes and you want me to pay your rent and everything else.” On page 32, he goes on and on about how much Holder had to drink, while leaving out whatever Hardy had consumed. On page 46, before questioning whether witness Kristina Laurence could have heard what she says she heard, he scoffs, “[Laurence] claims she was sleeping. Please, please. She also claims she had to put her clothes on before she — whatever.”
The issue here isn’t so much the vileness of the insinuations—Are you really going to take the word of these gold-digging tramps?—as the fact that they go unchallenged in the office of a company apparently focused on “getting it right” on domestic violence.
Maister wants credit for going to the local guy for paid medical testimony, instead of importing one from out of town (on page 79), though a cursory Google search raises questions about that medical examiner’s quality of work; he presents Holder as a stalker who followed Hardy from bar to bar that night, without mentioning that it was Hardy who had texted Holder and asked her to come meet him as the night of partying continued (page 27); and at one point wonders why, if Holder was really beaten, she doesn’t show more obvious injuries. (“Okay, where are the fractures?”)
For all of Maister’s thoroughness, he failed to produce the full record of Holder’s injuries:
As much as the league office playacts the role of a justice system, it’s powerless both to gather its own evidence and to compel a player’s legal representative to produce evidence referenced while discrediting a domestic violence victim.
Upon announcing Hardy’s eventual discipline, the NFL would trumpet its “extensive two-month investigation.” Earlier Deadspin FOIA requests and this transcript show that this investigation largely comprised an unorthodox deal with Mecklenburg County law enforcement and prosecutors that gave the NFL access to records that were kept from the public until being published by Deadspin last week and giving Hardy’s attorney a largely unopposed platform to portray him as a victim of a money-hungry sex monster.
As a result of the hearing, Roger Goodell reinstated Greg Hardy to the NFL and gave him a 10-game ban. That suspension was knocked down to four games on appeal; Goodell’s hand-picked arbitrator ruled that 10 games was “simply too much.”
Image by Jim Cooke, photo via AP.