The legal saga of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t ending any time soon.
During a special hearing requested by attorney Rusty Hardin on Monday, Harris County District Court Judge Rabeea Collier denied a portion of the motion, yet she also stipulated that certain depositions in the 22 active civil lawsuits can be delayed until after April 1.
That date is when the NFL player’s Houston-based lawyer expressed confidence multiple times that there will be a ruling from law enforcement officials on whether or not the three-time Pro Bowl selection will be be charged criminally for alleged sexual misconduct and/or sexual assaults.
The details from the special hearing
“The court will not entertain a stay or an abatement of your client’s deposition,” Collier said.
However, Collier did grant part of Hardin’s request. She also upheld his request to be present for all depositions involving his client. Hardin said that due to his court schedule, he isn’t available for the next few weeks.
Collier said that she will uphold the previously agreed upon docket and emphasized that Watson’s legal team has already taken 75 hours of depositions, with only six of the 22 civil litigants still to be deposed. She said that plaintiffs who have filed a criminal complaint against Watson and haven’t been deposed can’t depose him until after April 1.
“I’m allowing you to take Mr. Watson’s deposition on case specific details for those who have not filed a criminal complaint,” Collier said.
Only plaintiffs who have been deposed and haven’t filed criminal charges can begin taking Watson’s deposition now. The court ruled that Watson will be questioned under oath within the next 10 days if Hardin is available to be there in person for nine of the 22 plaintiffs.
“Denied in part, granted in part, denied as to those plaintiffs that have not filed a criminal complaint against your client,” Collier said to Hardin in court. “It’s granted in part with the plaintiffs that have put a criminal complaint against your client and for the individuals that may fall in between that have not been deposed. That has been granted because those individuals may not ask questions of your client until those plaintiffs are deposed.”
Hardin added he had “no reason to believe” that a ruling won’t be determined on Watson’s 10 active criminal complaints by April 1 and whether he would be charged or not charged. Eight of the 22 accusers, massage therapists making allegations against Watson of inappropriate behavior, have filed criminal complaints.
“We know that the police have forwarded to the district attorney’s office their findings and their conclusions,” Hardin said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on April 1,” Collier said.
Hardin advising Watson to take the Fifth Amendment?
Hardin added that he would advise Watson to take the Fifth Amendment in any deposition until there is a ruling on the criminal complaints. Hardin said he isn’t aware of any lawyer who would advise their client to not invoke their Fifth Amendment rights in a deposition while remaining under a criminal investigation.
“It is my obligation to not expose him to depositions while he is waiting to hear if he’ll be criminally charged,” Hardin said.
Hardin added that the potential “prejudicial impact is immeasurable” if Watson did participate in a deposition and answered fully, emphasizing that Watson would be acting on his advice but is willing to testify at any time.
Hardin, asked by Judge Collier why he believes he’ll have clarity on criminal charges or no charges by April 1, said that’s because the police have submitted their findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Hardin added that he expects the investigation to be concluded “in weeks, not months.”
Hardin, Watson’s Houston-based lawyer, had filed a motion requesting that the NFL player’s deposition be pushed back to no earlier than April 1 because not all 22 complainants — massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct and/or sexual assault — have been deposed, which was the original plan for the case.
Tony Buzbee speaks out on the legal process
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, complained Monday about the legal proceedings that have taken place so far.
“This has been completely one-sided,” Buzbee said in court. “This isn’t fair.”
Buzbee took issue with the depositions conducted by Watson’s legal team.
“They have been subjected to intensive and at time unnecessarily intrusive questioning about their claims,” he wrote in a court filing. “At times, the questions in those depositions have been harassing, abusive and irrelevant. Defendant must participate in this process and must sit for deposition.”
Buzbee issued a statement following the special hearing.
“Deshaun Watson’s team loudly and publicly claims he is innocent and wants nothing more than to clear his name, yet he refuses to sit in a room and face his accusers and answer questions under oath,” Buzbee said. “Today, he sought more delay; however, despite his efforts, the Court ruled that, at least with regard to the first nine plaintiffs, there will be no more delay. Plaintiffs can now question Deshaun Watson under oath about his conduct, and intend to take every minute of the forty eight hours that have been allotted for his deposition under the court order. It is incredibly important to recognize the strength and resolve of the women who brought this suit.
“As part of the NFL’s investigation of Watson, one of the first questions asked of them by the NFL investigators was what they were wearing during the massage sessions. They’ve faced many of the same types of questions from Watson’s team. We just learned recently during the deposition of Watson’s marketing manager, Bryan Burney, that it was in fact the Houston Texans organization who provided Watson the nondisclosure agreement that he insisted that many women sign after a massage session. The point is clear: the NFL is all talk and no action when it comes to the treatment of women. Yet, these women are unrattled. They are resolute. They are also patient. Their day in court is coming, and it is coming soon.”
After the proceedings, Hardin held a brief press conference and said of Watson: “He didn’t do what he’s accused of doing.”
The start of the NFL new year — which is the first day Watson could be traded — is March 16.
The details of Deshaun Watson’s motion
“Mr. Watson seeks a modest accommodation to protect two key goals of the parties’ agreed docket control order that are currently in jeopardy — largely because of delays created by the plaintiffs’ discovery conduct,” the original motion stated. “Specifically, Mr. Watson seeks a 60-day extension of certain DCO deadlines. Mr. Watson also asks that his depositions be scheduled to begin after April 1, 2022, instead of after February 22, 2022.”
The criminal investigation could be wrapped up by early April, so he could be deposed that month. That’s also prior to the NFL Draft when, depending on the resolution of his legal situation, Watson could be traded.
The motion emphasized that the criminal investigation of 10 criminal complaints, including eight plaintiffs, hasn’t been completed, with no clarity about Watson’s status as far as whether he will or won’t be charged with a crime.
Law enforcement sources said that no DNA, audio, or video evidence has been found or submitted by police detectives investigating the allegations. Watson, who has a standing trade request and a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, has denied wrongdoing through social media. Hardin said in a press conference that Watson had consensual sex with some of the massage therapists accusing him of lewd behavior.
Watson’s criminal investigation is active, no charges filed
“As has been widely reported, law enforcement authorities have been investigating eight of these cases for months,” the motion stated. “When the parties agreed to the DCO dates, Mr. Watson’s lawyers reasonably believed that a criminal investigation into the plaintiffs’ allegations, if any, would have concluded by now. It appears, however, that the investigation continues.
“While no one can know when the criminal investigation will conclude, delaying Mr. Watson’s deposition until April 1st (in addition to accomplishing the goal of completing the plaintiffs’ depositions first) also makes it more likely that the criminal investigation will conclude before Mr. Watson’s deposition — thus eliminating any potential Fifth Amendment issues and additional delays to these cases.
“For these and the other reasons discussed in more detail below, Mr. Watson respectfully requests a 60-day extension of the discovery and certain other pretrial deadlines and seeks protection from this Court so that his deposition may take place after April 1st at the office of Mr. Watson’s attorneys. If the criminal investigation concludes by April 1, 2022, Mr. Watson is available for deposition beginning April 4, 2022.”
Six of the 22 depositions haven’t been completed. Hardin wrote in the motion that several plaintiffs delayed or canceled their depositions.
Watson investigation’ drawing to a close’
The motion stated a belief that the criminal investigations “are drawing to a close.”
The Texans have been seeking at least three first-round draft picks and a pair of second-round draft picks in exchange for Watson, who led the NFL in passing yards two seasons ago.
He remained on the Texans’ roster last season and was paid his $10.54 million salary. Watson was not placed on the commissioner’s exempt list but played in no games.
Watson only practiced during a portion of training camp before he and general manager Nick Caserio reached an agreement that he would report to the Texans’ training facility for individual workouts with the strength and conditioning staff but not participate in practices and meetings.
What’s next on the Watson trade front?
A former first-round draft pick from Clemson, Watson wanted to be traded to the Miami Dolphins and was nearly moved. However, the deal unraveled at the trade deadline last season when just 18 of the 22 plaintiffs were willing to agree to settlements. That was a condition from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whom sources have emphasized was very interested in trading for Watson. The Dolphins have since moved on and have expressed a commitment to incumbent quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
NFL teams are keenly aware that Watson’s focus is on his legal situation and are actively monitoring the situation. Among the teams that still have interest in Watson, per sources: the Carolina Panthers.
Meanwhile, the case continues to unfold.
“It is undisputed that Mr. Watson is under a criminal investigation based upon some of the Plaintiffs’ claims,” the motion stated. “The investigation has been going on for some time, and it is hoped that they will conclude before April 1, 2022. Under this Court’s obligation to preserve ‘the least restrictive way to protect both cases and the defendant’s right to defend himself in this suit,’ see In re R.R., 26 S.W.3d 574, and the factors for consideration under federal law, see pages 5 and 6, above, the brief delay sought by Mr. Watson strikes the proper balance.
“With only a brief delay, it appears extremely likely that the criminal risks of testifying in these cases will become much clearer. Both the truth-seeking function of this Court, and the need to balance the rights of Mr. Watson support balancing these consideration by allowing the brief extensions that Mr. Watson requests.”
During the hearing, Hardin said: “What’s the hurry?”