CONROE, Texas (CNN) — Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will tentatively go to trial December 1 on a felony child abuse charge, but that date could be pushed back if a Texas judge must recuse himself for calling attorneys “media whores.”
Until the trial is finished, Peterson will be barred from having contact with the son involved in the criminal case, but the judge set no such parameters for Peterson’s other children.
Peterson, who was accompanied by his wife, other family members and legal team, appeared in court during the brief Wednesday hearing. One of his attorneys, Rusty Hardin, and Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon engaged in a serious conversation for about 30 minutes before approaching the bench.
It was difficult for those in the gallery to hear what was being said among the lawyers and judge, but Hardin’s spokeswoman said after the hearing, “I don’t think the judge ever asked for a plea. As we said yesterday, if the judge asks, Peterson will plead not guilty.”
It’s not clear when Peterson will enter a plea, but a recusal hearing for 9th District Court Judge Kelly Case was set for November.
The possibility of a recusal was raised after Ligon approached the bench with Hardin’s legal team and told Case, “It’s come to my attention that on October 2 you referred to Mr. Hardin as a whore.”
“I’m sorry?” Case interjected.
“… Mr. Hardin as a whore, specifically a media whore. And you also called me a whore or a media whore,” Ligon said before requesting an apology.
“Yeah, that was meant as a humorous joke,” Case said, “and unfortunately humor is sometimes taken the wrong way.”
Ligon said the remark could prejudice Peterson’s case and be construed as “biased toward the state of Texas” and again asked for an apology.
“Yes. Of course. I apologize to both of you,” the judge responded. “That’s not how I feel about any of you. I think you’re doing a great job, and I’ve known Mr. Hardin for 25 years.”
Hardin said, “Just for the record, I didn’t take offense to it. I’ve been called much worse.”
Peterson — who in 2011 signed a seven-year contract worth more than $100 million and is considered one of the NFL’s best running backs, if not the best — left the Vikings last month after the team deactivated, activated and deactivated him again following accusations that he whipped his 4-year-old son with a “switch,” or slender tree branch.
Authorities have not divulged details of the case against Peterson, but photos obtained by TMZ allegedly show Peterson’s son’s leg covered in marks, some of which appeared to have broken the skin. Peterson turned himself in and was released on a $15,000 bond.
According to Texas law, people can be convicted of injury to a child if they cause bodily or mental injury “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence” or cause such harm by omission. The crime is punishable by up to two years in a state jail and a $1,000 fine.
Hardin has said his client never meant to harm the boy and was simply doling out discipline much like “he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas.” Peterson likewise defended himself, saying he is “not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.”
Wednesday’s hearing came a day after the Star Tribune in Minneapolis published a scathing report alleging that the Vikings turned a blind eye to Peterson’s brushes with the law and moral shortcomings “until suddenly no one could look away.” The newspaper also alleges Peterson engaged in improprieties with one of his charities.
In a series of three tweets that began “Journalism 101,” the former Oklahoma University standout refutes the allegations in 11 bullet points and closes by tweeting, “10. I guess never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and “11. Take time to be GREAT and to get it right.”
After Wednesday’s hearing, Hardin acknowledged recent reports attacking his client’s character and told reporters on the courthouse steps, “There’s always another side, and I hope y’all will start chasing the other side some.”
Asked for the other side, Hardin responded, “I’m not going to get into that” and later told reporters, “Adrian is chomping at the bit to publicly talk and to publicly defend himself,” but has been advised against it by his legal team.
He went on to describe Peterson as a “really good man” and asserted, “This is a case about parenting decision and whether something unfortunate happened when a parenting decision was made by a man who believes strongly and loves his children very much.”
The case won’t be resolved in the media, he said, adding that the only solution was a speedy trial.
“I’m confident that the people here will see that the real Adrian will be the same before all this ever happened,” Hardin said before escorting Peterson to a vehicle waiting in front of the courthouse.
CNN’s Jason Morris and Jill Martin contributed to this report.