Carolina Panthers

Inside the Panthers: NFL won’t get Hardy’s trial evidence

Evidence, including dozens of photos, from Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy’s bench trial in July won’t be provided to the NFL by the court after a judge denied the league’s request.
Evidence, including dozens of photos, from Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy’s bench trial in July won’t be provided to the NFL by the court after a judge denied the league’s request. AP

Between the appeals on top of appeals in the Adrian Peterson saga and the dueling motions being filed in Greg Hardy’s case, the NFL’s lawyers and those representing the players are racking up billable hours this offseason.

But the mounting pile of paperwork in the Hardy file no longer contains the exhibits the league’s investigators presumably are most interested in seeing: The dozens of photos introduced in the July trial documenting the injuries sustained by Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, during their altercation last May at Hardy’s uptown condo.

The NFL this month asked a judge to unseal the evidence from the first trial, during which a district judge found Hardy guilty of the misdemeanor charges of assaulting Holder and threatening to kill her.

But the exhibits had been returned to the district attorney’s office and Hardy’s attorney, Chris Fialko, on Feb. 11, two days after the charges were dismissed against Hardy when prosecutors said they couldn’t locate Holder to testify in the jury trial.

Fialko filed his own motion Feb. 16, asking the court to deny the NFL’s request. That same day, Superior Court Judge Robert Bell signed an order doing just that.

Bell’s order was not entered into the file until Feb. 24, a day after the NFL withdrew its original motion.

What does all this mean?

That Hardy and his attorneys apparently aren’t going to willfully turn over any evidence to the NFL investigators trying to figure out what happened between Hardy and Holder, and whether and how severely to punish him.

Fialko has the only transcript for Hardy’s first trial, and has declined to comment when asked whether he’d provide it to the league. Fialko, a veteran Charlotte defense attorney who was part of Rae Carruth’s legal team, is protecting his client’s interests.

But it comes across as non-cooperation, which is not the best look for Hardy – certainly not where Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, a staunch loyalist to the league, is concerned.

Hardy, who settled with Holder for an undisclosed sum to take care of any civil claims, has showed little or no contrition since his arrest last May. Even if he believes he’s innocent, Hardy could have apologized to the Panthers for putting the team in a bad light.

The closest Hardy came to a mea culpa was at training camp last July when he said: “I hate that I have distracted my team, but other than that I can’t really answer any questions.”

It’s unclear when or if Hardy will answer questions from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or Lisa Friel, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor hired by the league last fall to help clean up the Ray Rice mess.

Hardy’s lawyers and representatives have not said whether Hardy has met with Goodell yet, or if he has a meeting scheduled.

After a federal judge ruled in Peterson’s favor last week, the Observer reported Hardy planned to ask the league for immediate reinstatement from the commissioner’s exempt list. But after the league appealed Judge David Doty’s decision, it effectively put Hardy’s reinstatement hopes on ice.

I have to think the NFL will announce the discipline for Hardy this week, before the March 10 start of free agency. And given the post-Rice climate around the league, I don’t see a scenario in which Hardy is not suspended.

The question is whether Goodell uses the baseline discipline from the league’s new personal conduct policy for first-time violations of domestic violence (six games) or reverts to the former policy. It was Goodell’s retroactive use of the new policy in the Peterson case that led Doty to overturn an arbitrator’s decision upholding Goodell’s suspension of Peterson through at least April 15.

Whatever Goodell decides on Hardy, the process is just beginning.

There’s certain to be a grievance filed by the players union, and arbitration hearings and appeals to follow.

Eventually, the lawyers and league officials will end up with a resolution on Hardy, but it will no longer be the Panthers’ concern.

Quick hits

Three quick hits on the Panthers from the week that was:

▪ So much for a clean exit for DeAngelo Williams. It wasn’t Steve Smith nuclear exit, but Williams clearly had some things he wanted off his chest related to the Panthers’ response, or lack thereof, following his mother’s death last spring. Unless you’re Jordan Gross, who retired on his own terms and took a job with the Panthers, there’s really no easy breakup when a team decides one of its iconic players is no longer worth keeping.

▪ Veteran return specialists Ted Ginn and Jacoby Jones both hit the market this week. Both have ties to Carolina: Ginn once signed with the Panthers; Jones nearly did. Dave Gettleman has to find a way to land one of them.

▪ Don’t be surprised if the Panthers bring back Joe Webb for a second season. The pending free agent is the ultimate utility infielder. Webb is the third-team quarterback, a backup receiver and a willing special teams member. Plus, simple as it sounds, the Panthers like him. That goes a long way.

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