Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is scheduled to testify in more depositions Friday in Houston, but there is otherwise no end in sight for his legal problems there after a hearing Monday in front of a Texas judge.
Watson is being sued by 22 women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in early 2020 to March 2021. On Monday, attorneys for Watson and the plaintiffs appeared in a Houston courtroom. The proceeding also was streamed online.
Watson did not attend. The judge ordered the plaintiffs to produce certain mental health records to Watson’s legal team by Friday and also tried to corral the scheduling of a sprawling set of high-profile cases that started in March 2021. Among the highlights Monday:
When will the first trial take place?
One plaintiff wanted to go to trial in July, but Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, made it clear there are several issues in the way of that, including the possibility that each trial could last six to seven weeks. That means none of these cases likely will go to trial before March under an agreement between the parties to avoid trial during football season from Aug. 1 to March 1.
“I’ve pushed hard to try the first case filed before the end of the summer, in July,” plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement after the hearing. “Watson’s team has finally said no. If Watson wants so badly to clear his name like he claims, why not try the first case that was filed against him? We are ready to try that case and look forward to doing so.”
Harris County Judge Rabeea Collier suggested the attorneys work on Saturdays to get Watson’s depositions completed by the June 23 deadline to end the gathering of pretrial discovery evidence. Collier ended up extending the cutoff for pretrial discovery to July 1.
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“I know lawyers don’t want to work on Saturdays,” Collier said. “But if you could just look on a Saturday, because then Mr. Watson can fly in on a Friday, can get deposed on a Saturday and potentially longer (depositions).”
She suggested that Watson’s depositions be longer than their current two-hour limit “so it’s not so drawn out potentially and this could get wrapped up.”
Watson has testified in depositions for seven of the 22 plaintiffs, with 15 to go. The plaintiffs attorneys wanted him to sit for more depositions in May, but Hardin previously noted Watson has a new “full-time job” in Ohio that makes it difficult for him to schedule them. Hardin also protested having Watson sit for more than two depositions per day, saying it would be unfair to Watson and “exhausting.”
Watson’s depositions scheduled for Friday involve plaintiffs Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley. All of the 22 women sued Watson in Houston, where he previously played for the Houston Texans before recently being traded to the Browns.
Length of trials
Once these cases do go to trial, each could last weeks. They could be tried separately and in different courts in Harris County, Texas. One of the big issues that will have to be decided before any trial is whether the other 21 women can testify in the case of one. Buzbee wants that, but Hardin said in court Monday that evidence from the other women would be inadmissible in the case at trial.
“But even if the court was to rule it was (admissible), you’re talking about a six- or seven-week trial, because if you introduce other women to cases in this one case … no way it can be done (by) Aug. 1,” Hardin said.
Collier ordered certain mental health records be produced by plaintiffs by Friday. Watson’s legal team had filed a motion to compel their production, noting they are important to Watson’s defense against claims by the women that they suffered emotional distress stemming from their encounters with him.
The attorneys are scheduled to appear in court again in July to assess the progress of the cases then.
Watson has denied wrongdoing after the lawsuits started in March 2021. Hardin said the women are lying, out for money and that there were “sometimes consensual encounters.” Two grand juries considered 10 police complaints against Watson with similar allegations but declined to indict him on criminal charges.
“We are 14 months after 22 lawsuits were filed,” Hardin said in court. “In reality, in the real world, to be this far along is not bad.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org