NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson now will have to answer whether he had sex with 18 additional therapists who came to his defense about his massage habits last year, according to a ruling Tuesday by a Texas judge.
Watson is being sued by 22 other women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. As part of the pretrial discovery process in those lawsuits, their attorneys have sought to have Watson answer written “requests for admission” about whether he had sex with the 18 therapists who publicly supported him after the lawsuits against him started in March 2021.
Watson, who recently was traded to the Cleveland Brownspreviously refused to answer these questions, saying it was harassing, private and not relevant, according to an objection filed by his attorneys in court.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys countered by saying it will help show Watson’s pattern and motives in seeking massages with dozens of different women, many of whom have met on social media. They asked the court to compel him to answer, leading to a hearing in court Tuesday between the two sides.
Harris County District Court Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier decided in favor of the plaintiffs, overruling the objection by Watson’s attorney, Leah Graham.
The judge didn’t explain her reasoning despite a request to do so by Graham.
“Your Honor, this is information that we feel strongly is not discoverable,” Graham said during the hearing in Houston, which was also shown online. “For clarity of the record… help us understand the basis of the reasoning for why (these answers) would be relevant and discoverable.”
“The objection is overruled,” the judge said in response. “Thank you.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also succeeded in their quest to compel Watson to produce certain other information about his history of massages since 2019, as well as any language about massages in his contract with the Houston Texans, Watson’s previous team. The judge gave Watson’s team 30 days to comply.
“We will continue to force Mr. Watson to answer our questions and reveal the full parameters of his conduct,” plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee said in an e-mail afterward.
Graham, Watson’s attorney, did not return a message seeking comment after the hearing.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys did not succeed in their quest to compel Watson to answer questions about any sexual relations he had with specific additional women who have not come forward publicly in this case. That is where the judge drew the line in her decision on this matter: Have they come forward publicly or not?
In the case of the 18 therapists at issue, they did come out to support Watson publicly one year ago in statements released by his attorney, Rusty Hardin. They said Watson, 26, never made them feel uncomfortable during their interactions with him, unlike the other 22 women who are suing him. Hardin’s strategy with releasing such information at the time apparently was to take some heat off his client from him. A year later, Watson must answer more about his histories of him with those 18 women, if there were any, according to the judge’s ruling.
Graham called it a “fishing expedition” by the plaintiffs and not relevant to the specific allegations in individual lawsuits.
Plaintiffs attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey disagreed, telling the judge Watson “went to massage therapy sessions intending to have sex, intending to do something else, not have a massage.”
“That is at the heart of this case,” she said.
She added “we’re not asking whether he had sex with anybody in the world” but instead with specific therapists, including the 18 who had “voluntarily publicly identified themselves.”
After 10 women filed police complaints against him, two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in those cases. But the 22 civil lawsuits are proceeding and might not go to trial until next year.
Watson recently said he never assaulted, harassed or disrespected any women after agreeing to a record-setting contract with the Browns that will pay him $230 million guaranteed over five years. Hardin, his attorney for him, last year said a big reason Watson saw so many different women for massages was because “spas shut down” in 2020 amid the pandemic.
Buzbee told USA TODAY Sports last week that this explanation recently didn’t hold up in his pretrial questioning of Watson.
“He couldn’t say any place was shut down because of COVID,” Buzbee said. “He didn’t reach out to any place that shut down. I didn’t even ask.”
Hardin said the women suing his client are lying and out for money but that there were “sometimes consensual encounters.”