Hardin went into a Harris County courtroom on Monday to present to Judge Rabeea Collier a two pronged case for why Watson should wait until at least the beginning of April for his depositions to begin. First, Hardin pointed out, not all of Watson's accusers had been deposed yet. More importantly, the HPD criminal investigation against Watson was still ongoing, which would make Watson's depositions a slew of Fifth Amendment invoking, something that Hardin contends would hurt Watson in the court of public opinion.
As outlined below, Hardin was only partially successful in delaying the depositions for his client:
So what does this all mean? Let's dig in...
During a special hearing today Harris County District Judge Rabeea Collier to Rusty Hardin, Deshaun Watson’s attorney, who was looking to delay Watson’s depositions,which were to begin this week,until April: “The court will not entertain a stay or an abatement of your client’s..” pic.twitter.com/L9oosGzQf3— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 21, 2022
The plaintiffs who have been deposed and have not filed criminal complaints can depose Watson ASAP
The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Tony Buzbee, told the court that there are nine plaintiffs that fit that description — they have been deposed and have not gone to the police to file a complaint against Watson. So Judge Collier ruled that depositions of Watson as pertains to THOSE nine plaintiffs can begin as soon as Hardin is available. It was disclosed that Hardin is working on another trial currently, and is unavailable this week and next week, so the earliest depositions of Watson could begin would seem to be the week of March 7.
What about the depositions of Watson regarding the other 13 plaintiffs?
Well, the ones that have not been deposed yet must be deposed before Watson will answer questions about them (if indeed he even answers any questions, as opposed to pleading the Fifth). For the clients who have filed criminal complaints and been deposed, Watson will conduct his depositions on those lawsuits sometime after April 1, so therein lies the result of Hardin at least achieving partial success on delaying the Watson depositions. There is only one problem, and Hardin acknowledged this in arguing on behalf of a FULL Delay of all 22 depositions of Watson — in the eyes of the public, the cases are inextricably linked, so when Watson invokes the Fifth Amendment on all of the depositions between March 7 and the criminal courts issuing their ruling, as it's expected Hardin would advise him, it's going to be a bad look for Watson. It was quite evident that Hardin and Watson didn't want the Texans quarterback to have to invoke the Fifth Amendment on even one deposition, let alone nine of them (or 22 of them, if the depositions all had taken place as originally scheduled, by the end of March).
Why did Judge Collier rule the way she did?
Local attorney and sports talk show host Mike Meltser laid this out pretty well:
Regarding the depositions Watson's side has taken, Buzbee claims that Hardin has had the chance to use over 75 hours to grill the plaintiffs.
I think Judge Collier ruled the way she did (allowing some of the plaintiffs to move forward with Watson's deposition) because both sides agreed to these deadlines well in advance, and that Watson's side has been able to take a lot of depositions— Mike Meltser (@MikeMeltser) February 21, 2022
So is this good news or bad news for Deshaun Watson?
As previously outlined, the fact that Watson appears to be on track to get deposed while there is an open criminal investigation is not optimal. Even if he believes he didn't do the things he is accused of, it appears that the proper legal advice is for Watson to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. That he is getting the first round of depositions pushed back from this week to at least a couple weeks from now, I suppose, is a small victory, but it seems like it's delaying the inevitable. Of course, this all presumes that we are still headed to a trial at some point, and that Watson doesn't settle with his accusers.
What about the Texans? Is this good news or bad news for them?
I would say, it's a little of both. The bad news is that any delay of anything Watson-related, at this point, just gets the Texans precariously close to the 2022 NFL Draft (set to begin on April 28) without Watson's legal saga resolved, which means the team either can't trade him, won't trade him, or has to trade him but at a significant discount. Given the fact that his salary goes from $10.5 million last season to $35 million in 2022, having Watson still around come May 2022 is a disaster.
The one shred of good news is that Hardin appeared confident in court on Monday that Watson's criminal case would come to some sort of resolution by April 1, hence Hardin using that as the target date to which he wanted to delay all depositions. Hardin disclosed Monday that the police have sent their findings to the Harris County DA's office, and that he believes it should be "weeks, not months" before the criminal investigation is resolved. If the criminal piece is resolved by April 1, and resolved to where Watson isn't charged with any felonies, then that could be a significant domino that would trigger the NFL ruling on a possible suspension and maybe even trigger settlements in the civil cases. For now, the specter of jail time still hangs over everything, and that being removed would be massive for Watson, and in turn, the Texans.
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