Attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing plaintiffs in 24 lawsuits filed against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for alleged sexual misconduct in massage therapy, announced on Tuesday that 20 of the lawsuits have been tentatively settled. He did not reveal terms of the settlements, which will need approval by Harris County (Texas) Judge Rabeea Collier.
“We are working through the paperwork,” Buzbee said in a statement, “related to those settlements.” He added that he is proud to have represented the women who, he says, “have endured vile criticism and fanatical ignorance . . . they faced withering cross examination by skilled litigators and stood firm . . . they are warriors all.”
There is no indication that the 20 settlements require Watson to apologize or make a statement wherein he admits to regrettable, though—he would insist—lawful, behavior around women whom he contacted. Any statement could also be used by the remaining plaintiffs or by the NFL and the Browns in their assessment of whether he has compiled with applicable workplace policies.
The 20 settlements mostly, though not entirely, resolve the unique and disturbing legal predicament faced by Watson. The possibility of one combined trial, or 24 individual ones, where two dozen (or more) women accuse him of harmful and offensive actions has been eliminated. That said, he could still face trials for the remaining four cases and any future ones.
The conclusion of the 20 cases also limits additional discovery in the litigation, meaning fewer chances for opposing counsel to question Watson under oath and demand he turn over potentially damaging emails or texts.
The settlements will help Watson in the court of law, but their impact in the court of the NFL is far less certain. It is widely expected that retired federal Judge Sue Robinson, serving as a neutral disciplinary officer under the NFL’s new disciplinary procedures, will soon announce a decision on a suspension. It appears her investigation is mostly, if not nearly, complete.
From that lens, the 20 settlements might be too late for Watson. Robinson has likely already reached preliminary conclusions, in part based on evidence and testimony that became available through the cases. Whether Watson broke any laws is not the relevant test for Robinson, who is instead charged with determining if Watson engaged in conduct detrimental to the league and, if so, what is an appropriate punishment.