A judge in Houston ruled Monday that Deshaun Watson can face questions under oath in at least some of the 22 civil cases filed against him by women who have accused the Houston Texans quarterback of actions ranging from harassment to sexual assault during massage sessions.
Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, filed a motion last week to delay Watson's deposition until after April 1 and argued Monday that such a delay would enable Watson's legal team to secure depositions with all 22 of the women who are suing Watson and also allow Watson the protection of knowing whether he will also face criminal charges. Watson's deposition was originally scheduled to begin as early as this week.
Hardin said in court on Monday that the Harris County District Attorney will likely decide by April 1 whether Watson will be criminally charged. The district attorney's office and Houston Police have declined to comment on the status of the criminal case against Watson.
Hardin's motion to delay Watson's deposition was denied on Monday, at least in part.
"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," Tony Buzbee, the Houston attorney for the 22 women suing Watson, said in a prepared statement Monday.
"Today [Watson] 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," Buzbee added.
The court ruled Monday that Watson can be questioned under oath on allegations relating to nine of the pending civil cases. None of the women involved in those nine cases has filed a criminal complaint against Watson, and all of them have already provided depositions of their own in their ongoing civil cases.
Hardin argued in court on Monday that no attorney would allow a client to provide sworn testimony in a civil case when a potential criminal case is looming, raising the prospect that when Watson does provide testimony in the nine cases identified by the court on Monday, he will likely exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
"The obligation of the lawyer is to protect the client, and while there is a criminal investigation going on, it is only fair to wait to see whether it results in charges or it doesn't before deciding whether you're going to submit somebody for depositions," Hardin told reporters after Monday's hearing.
The 22 civil cases filed against Watson accuse him of a range of actions during massage appointments, from refusing to cover his genitals to forced oral sex. Hardin said Monday that Watson "didn't do what he is accused of doing," and added, "I'm hopeful and I trust that will be a conclusion of a grand jury."
Buzbee shed at least some light on the recent deposition of Watson's marketing manager, Brian Burney, saying it was Burney who testified that the Texans organization "provided Watson the nondisclosure agreement that he insisted that many women sign after a massage session."
The NFL is also investigating Watson's case.
Watson, who has been the subject of NFL trade rumors for months, did not play all season for the Texans despite remaining on the active roster.