Rusty Hardin, the attorney for Deshaun Watson, said the Houston Texans’ quarterback will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when he is set to give his first deposition in civil litigation involving 22 lawsuits filed by women alleging inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions.
The district attorney is also presenting her case to the grand jury Friday. Hardin’s request to plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, was denied, but Hardin said that has advised Watson not to answer questions.
Hardin emphasized that taking the fifth is not an admission of guilt and that the three-time Pro Bowl passer will be happy to testify when he can.
“It’s a non-starter because neither I or any lawyer in the free world will allow their client to give testimony in a civil case while those same issues are being heard by a grand jury,” Hardin said in a telephone interview. “Tony Buzbee didn’t want to delay. It’s unfortunate. Deshaun will be glad to testify when I advise him to.
“This is a civil matter. That’s where we believe it should be heard. If Tony Buzbee wants to waste his time asking questions, that’s fine. Deshaun will not answer those questions. Deshaun will testify when the grand jury has completed its work.”
Watson is facing 10 criminal complaints alleging sexual misconduct. He has not been charged with a crime. He has denied wrongdoing in a statement when the first lawsuits were filed. Hardin has said in a press conference previously that Watson had consensual sex with some of the plaintiffs.
Search warrants issued in the fall sought access to social media and cash pay accounts Watson allegedly used to pay for massages and listed a potential charge of indecent assault, which is a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment, if convicted, by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
While the legal situation remains unresolved, Watson, who has requested a trade and has a no-trade clause in his $156 million contract, and the Texans are in a holding pattern.
Texans coach Lovie Smith, 63, said during the NFL scouting combine that he remains hopeful that closure will ultimately be realized for Watson and the AFC South franchise. When that might happen is totally unclear.
“I have no idea,” Smith said. “And the good part about it is time kind of takes care of everything. I just know Deshaun is an excellent football player. Excellent football players need to be playing somewhere in the NFL. Hopefully, that will happen, and if it’s not with us, it’s somewhere else. And I’m sure as I see in this situation, both of us eventually are going to benefit from the situation, and I just can’t wait for that to speed up a little bit.
“How important is that? I’m agreeing with what you said. Yes, we would like a prompt resolution to it, but I’m also a patient man, too, and time normally takes care of everything. We understand this is Year 2, and I know Deshaun wants to play, and it will come to a head. I have faith in that. We just have to give it a little time, and hopefully, everybody will be happy with it. I’m sure that will be the case.”
While the legal situation continues to unfold, the Texans and NFL teams interested in trading for the Watson are monitoring the situation and awaiting clarity.
“I would say that situation, we’ve talked about this with our group, we’re day to day in terms of handling that,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said during the combine “Once the information becomes more relevant or prevalent, then we’ll handle it accordingly. My philosophy from the beginning has always been to do the right thing by the Houston Texans organization, and we’re going to continue to do that here moving forward.”
During a recent special hearing requested by Hardin, 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 Watson will be charged criminally for alleged sexual misconduct.
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 previously said 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. He 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.
The criminal investigation could be wrapped up by early April, so Watson could have the remainder of his depositions 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.
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. Could that price drop potentially if his legal situation doesn’t improve? That’s obvious.
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 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.
The Washington Commanders and Carolina Panthers remain interested in Watson and are actively monitoring the legal situation, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Aaron Wilson is a reporter and analyst for Pro Football Network and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.