Ted Wells Lawsuit – Why “Independent” is So Important to the Investigation

Overview

Former Miami Dolphins coach, Jim Turner, filed a lawsuit against Attorney Ted Wells for defamation and emotional pain and suffering. Turner alleges that Wells “had an agenda” when he conducted his investigation into charges of bullying on the Miami Dolphins team, and that the NFL charged Wells with finding someone to placate the public and find blame when they hired him. In exchange, Wells’ firm was well-paid and well-positioned for future NFL cases.

What Happened?

The NFL hired Ted Wells to investigate charges of bullying on the Miami dolphins football team. The NFL released Wells’ investigation report in February, 2014. In the report, Wells found that Offensive Line Coach, Jim Turner, had participated in the harassment, and also created an environment that allowed the bullying and harassment to occur. Turner was subsequently fired.

Turner’s lawyer believes that Wells failed to include testimony that would have helped Turner’s position. Instead, Wells allegedly allowed the blame to fall on Turner, even though he knew the accusations to be untrue. Turner believes that the NFL ordered Wells to placate the public by finding someone to blame, and rewarded Wells and his firm, Paul Weiss of New York, by hiring them again for the Patriot’s DeflateGate investigation. The firm was paid more than $45 million for the two investigations.

Turner alleges that his career and reputation were substantially and perhaps permanently damaged by the findings in Wells’ report. He is seeking damages for defamation and emotional pain and suffering.

What Does this Mean?

Turner is basically alleging that Wells either excluded or misrepresented information in his report in order to present Turner as a scapegoat. This is a serious accusation, since one of the benefits of hiring an independent third party investigator is the objective neutrality the investigator brings to the table. This neutrality is a protection both for the hiring entity and the subject of the investigation because the investigator has no bias for or against any conclusion. Reputation is garnered with a thorough investigation and logical well-presented report, not whether or not conclusions are favorable.

Turner is insinuating that the DeflateGate investigation was “payment” for fulfilling the NFL’s agenda in the Miami Dolphin’s investigation. This is a difficult allegation to prove. There is nothing suspect in gaining repeat business. If a firm does a good job, and conducts a complete and well-reasoned investigation, it is only logical that a client would come back because trust has been established.

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be an allegation that Wells and the NFL established a contract or guarantee for future business as a result of the Miami investigation. Instead, the somewhat nebulous inference is that Wells’ firm was “well-positioned” to get more work from the NFL because of the subsequent use of the firm for the DeflateGate investigation.

Since this is a civil case, Tuner does not need to meet criminal standards of proof. He only needs to chow that it is more likely than not that Wells intentionally or negligently published untrue information that resulted in damages. For an attorney, such as Wells, who may be accustomed to the mindset of an advocate for their client (here, the NFL), stepping back to be a neutral fact-finder can be difficult. If Turner can prove bias, it could establish motive for reaching a particular conclusion, regardless of truthfulness. It will be interesting to see if Turner can meet the required burden of proof.

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