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This week, a judge in Georgia declined to dismiss the lawsuit against former NBA All-Star Dwight Howard, alleging sexual assault and battery, per ESPN. The lawsuit, filed by Stephen Harper in July 2023, alleges that Howard sexually assaulted him at Harper's home in July 2021. Howard and his attorneys have argued that the encounter was consensual.

The Gwinnett County judge also made a ruling to seal an exhibit that, according to Howard's lawyers, included sexually explicit messages.

"My comment, at this time, is that we are glad the court denied Mr. Howard's motion and look forward to proving our client's case," Olga Izmaylova, Harper's attorney, told ESPN.

"Justice will prevail and we fully trust in our justice system and the process," Justin Bailey, one of Howard's attorneys, told ESPN. "This order is a part of the process. We will engage in discovery and will further prove our case, and when the time is right, we will let our future pleadings speak for themselves."

In December, Howard filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was "frivolous" and "nothing more than a classic case of unrequited love." That filing centered on text messages between the two men. It alleges that some messages were deleted and others in the initial complaint were doctored. Howard's camp submitted screenshots of text messages that were not previously entered into the record. 

"In short, the totality of the text messages between Mr. Howard and Mr. Harper make it abundantly clear that Mr. Harper's claims are frivolous, that he was a willing participant in the events of July 19, 2021, and the early morning hours of July 20, 2021, and that the touching of his person had been invited by him," Howard's lawyers wrote. 

"More importantly, the explicit messages not only show consent but also that Mr. Harper was initiating some of the sexual contact. Mr. Harper not only invited the initial experience, but tried to initiate a second encounter because the first was so enjoyable. As it is undisputed that Mr. Harper consented to the touching between him and Mr. Howard, Mr. Harper's claims necessarily fail, and Mr. Howard is entitled to summary judgment as the clear consent negates the essential element of intent and the claims of Assault, Battery, False Imprisonment, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress fall like a house of cards."

Harper's lawyers responded in January 2024, per ESPN, arguing that the case has "nothing to do with unrequited love" and asking the judge for a trial in front of a jury. 

In July, Harper – who has agreed to be named publicly – filed a civil suit against Howard alleging assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress relating to a 2021 encounter. Harper initially reported the alleged assault to police in Gwinnett County, Georgia, in July of 2022, but never gave a formal interview to the police, who eventually suspended the case. As a result, there are currently no criminal charges filed against Howard. 

According to the lawsuit, Harper says he met Howard on Instagram and agreed to meet at Howard's home for a sexual encounter. While traveling there, Harper says Howard asked if another man or woman could join, which Harper declined. However, upon arrival, another man, identified only as "Kitty" was there. Howard and "Kitty" allegedly then forced Harper to participate in sexual activity. 

Per the lawsuit, "Mr. Harper was trapped in Defendant's bedroom and believed that he would suffer imminent bodily harm if he resisted Defendant's sexual advances. Mr. Harper felt extremely violated and humiliated and was in complete shock."

A response filed by Howard's lawyer in October stated that the three men all agreed to "engage in consensual sexual activity." Howard is asking for a summary judgment -- a judgment entered by a court without a full trial -- and for court costs and attorney fees to be paid by Harper. 

One of Howard's lawyers provided an additional statement to ESPN on Oct. 25:

"What was a private consensual encounter was made public for profit and Mr. Howard looks forward to bringing the truth to light in a court of law. The allegations against Mr. Howard are contested. Mr. Howard intends to present the truth. The truth is Mr. Howard blocked Mr. Harper on social media and then was confronted with two options -- pay to protect his reputation or have a fabricated story made public. Despite being an easy target due to the subject matter and his status as a celebrity, Mr. Howard chose to trust in the justice system and will rely on all future court filings to speak for themselves."

Howard addressed the accusations in an Instagram Live on Oct. 26:

"Stop worrying about it. I ain't gotta deny it, I don't gotta talk about none of that crap. This s--- didn't even happen. You worried about the wrong stuff. That's why it's called an accusation. Allegedly. Come on, man."

Howard most recently played in Taiwan. The eight-time NBA All-Star was drafted by the Magic in 2004 and played for seven different organizations over 18 seasons. He was part of the Lakers' 2019-20 championship squad and he last played in the NBA in 2022 during a third stint with the Lakers.