HOUSTON – A judge has declined efforts by attorneys for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to delay all his depositions in connection with lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault and harassment.
During a court hearing on Monday, defense attorney Rusty Hardin had asked that depositions in the case be delayed until after an ongoing criminal investigation of the allegations against Watson concluded.
Hardin said Houston police have already forwarded their findings to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and he believed a grand jury could make a decision in the case by April 1. Eight of the women filed criminal complaints against Watson. The FBI is also reviewing the allegations.
“I know that Deshaun is more than willing to give his testimony and to give depositions. I’m saying as his lawyer I think it would be crazy to allow it until we know what’s going to happen on the criminal side,” Hardin said.
In their lawsuits, the 22 women accuse Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will during massage appointments.
Watson and his lawyers have denied the accusations. His lawyers have said “some sexual activity” happened during some of the appointments but that he never coerced anyone.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women, argued that most of the women have already given their depositions and it was only fair for Watson to be deposed according to an agreed upon schedule. A previous court order has set Watson’s depositions to begin on Thursday.
“You would think that someone who’s legal team has called every one of these women liars, has criticized me and has loudly declared his completely innocence would be ready to speak publicly under oath as he originally agreed,” Buzbee said. “But instead, he ducks and runs for cover.”
Judge Rabeea Collier ruled that those women who did not file a criminal complaint against Watson can have their lawyer depose the quarterback while the others will have to wait until after April 1.
Buzbee said he expected depositions of Watson on behalf of nine of the women to begin within 10 days.
“Mr. Watson can continue to seek delay but it’s inevitable that he will eventually and ultimately have to answer questions about his conduct under oath,” Buzbee said.
Hardin said while there is still an ongoing criminal investigation, “it is only fair” to wait and see if it results in any charges before having Watson give a deposition.
“I’m hoping and trusting that the public will listen to us when we say he didn’t do what he is accused of doing. I’m hopeful and trust that’ll be the conclusion of a grand jury,” Hardin said.
Watson’s lawyers have sought to balance their defense of the NFL star while simultaneously condemning sexual violence against women.
But Watson’s attorneys have called the lawsuits against him a “money grab” and fired back that all 22 women who have filed suit are lying, a strategy some experts and advocates say relies on long-used tropes designed to minimize such accusations. Buzbee has said some of his clients have faced criticism and even death threats.
Watson’s future with the Texans remains unclear.
Even before the lawsuits were first filed in March, Watson had asked to be traded. The trade request and the lawsuits kept Watson out all last season.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70