Thirteen women accusing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct must identify themselves in lawsuits they’ve filed against the NFL star, two judges said on Friday.
Rulings by Harris County District Court Judges Dedra Davis and Rabeea Sultan Collier could lead to identifications of all of Watson’s “Jane Doe” accusers, who claim that the star quarterback exhibited lewd behavior during massage sessions in 2020 and earlier this year.
Two of the 13 have to re-file their lawsuits with their names before the end of Wednesday, while the rest have until the end of Tuesday, according to the rulings.
Last week, two of the Jane Doe accusers identified themselves.
In his only public statement about the allegations, Watson has denied that he ever treated women with anything but the “utmost respect.” Watson’s attorney has said he never “forced a woman to commit a sexual act.”
Defense lawyer Rusty Hardin has asked for all accusers to be unmasked, arguing that his client cannot possibly mount a reasonable defense without immediately knowing his accusers.
In a hastily called hearing on Friday dealing with 12 of the lawsuits, lawyer Tony Buzbee told Judge Collier that nine of his clients had already agreed to attach their names to the lawsuits.
The judge said all of those 12 Buzbee clients had to amend their civil complaints with their names.
Earlier in the day, Judge Davis ordered that the lawsuit of one woman be refiled within two business days with her name on it.
Hardin argued there’s a line between identifying victims of sexual assault in criminal court and civil court.
“They should be allowed to report it anonymously (in criminal matters),” Hardin told Judge Collier, “but when we move over to the civil area where a private individual decides to seek compensation for what they contend is a wrongdoing then the law says clearly you have to declare who you are because the person (accused) has a right to know.”
Buzbee read online threats being made at some of his clients, arguing that forced disclosure of their names could be dangerous.
“We’re going to amend on nine of these cases and we may ultimately amend on the others,” he said in the later hearing. “But I think there’s a balancing test here. And I think that balancing test is you have to consider the safety of these plaintiffs.”
Watson has been regularly getting massage therapy, Hardin told reporters later on Friday. But with the pandemic, Watson didn’t have access to his regular set of therapists and was forced to reach out to other providers who weren’t familiar with his massage needs, Hardin said.
Watson has insisted he has not forced any women into unwanted sexual activity.