Deshaun Watson’s attorney seeks identities of civil accusers, says QB is victim of 'trial by press conference'

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HOUSTON — In a motion that represents the first legal cannon shot aimed at defending Deshaun Watson, the attorney for the Houston Texans quarterback asked a judge on Thursday to compel one of Watson’s still-anonymous accusers to shed a protective “Jane Doe” pseudonym and refile her civil lawsuit under her legal name.

The legal brief filed by Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, was directed at the seventh woman to bring a civil case against the quarterback. It represents what is expected to ultimately be a more sweeping move to force the remaining 20 “Jane Doe” plaintiffs to reveal themselves in court filings. As it stands, two of Watson’s accusers — Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley — have already revealed their identities, doing so in statements delivered at a Tuesday news conference arranged by their attorney, Tony Buzbee. Each of the 22 women who have filed civil suits have done so with Buzbee acting as their legal representation.

In a statement provided to the media on the heels of the motion, Hardin said that Watson didn’t “force, coerce or intimidate anyone to do anything against their will.”

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 15:  Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans looks to his sideline during the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Houston defeats Tennessee 24-21.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
A legal cloud is following Deshaun Watson as he faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Hardin’s media statement:

“We have said this before and we want to say it again: Deshaun did not force, coerce or intimidate anyone to do anything against their will. When we asked Mr. Buzbee to identify his clients weeks ago, he refused and told us to file a motion. Today we filed that motion. As discussed in our filing, Mr. Buzbee’s use of anonymous lawsuits violates Texas law and the basic concept of fairness. It is clear that, for Mr. Buzbee, this case has never been about seeking justice in a courtroom, but destroying Deshaun’s reputation to enhance his own public profile and enrich himself. While I understand that anonymity often is used as a shield for victims, Mr. Buzbee is using it as a sword. While shielding his clients from public scrutiny, Mr. Buzbee continues to use their anonymous allegations to destroy Mr. Watson. This is simply not right. And we look forward to resolving these matters in court.”

In his legal motion, Hardin criticizes Buzbee for his attacks on Watson, which have included a multitude of allegations in Buzbee’s legal filings. He has alleged that the quarterback committed sexual assault, displayed harassing behavior, deleted social media messages and made attempts to settle some of the complaints against him. Hardin also suggested that the women do not have the legal backing to make civil accusations about Watson while continuing to conceal their identities, stating that only minors can have their names shielded from the public during civil suits alleging sexual assault.

“[Buzbee’s] incessant public attacks on Mr. Watson have not stopped,” Hardin’s motion states. “Lacking the desire to present his case in a court of law — where concepts of fundamental fairness apply — Mr. Buzbee is intent on conducting discovery by Facebook and trial by press conference. He is asking the public to act as judge and jury without ever allowing Mr. Watson to responsibly respond. Because [Buzbee] filed the actions anonymously, Mr. Watson’s counsel can only speculate about [the accuser’s] identity.”

Hardin goes on to argue that the anonymity would leave Watson guessing at the identity of his accusers and that raises the risk of involuntarily drawing an innocent person into a “media frenzy” if the quarterback guesses incorrectly and publicly names the wrong person while defending himself. 

Hardin is asking a judge to give Watson a chance to publicly address his accuser — and likely all of his accusers, if this motion is granted — while using their real names and corresponding background information that would provide a defense.

“Mr. Buzbee, hiding behind this anonymity, has attempted to try this case in the court of public opinion rather than in a court of law,” the filing reads. “He has held multiple press conferences and selectively released misleading excerpts of alleged evidence to the public regarding the allegations made in this case. Mr. Buzbee has consistently used social media posts to thrust the allegations of this case into public view. He begs people to reserve judgement about his clients, while deliberately and publicly attacking Mr. Watson and seeking to get the public at large to rush to judgment. Only when it seemingly benefits his public display does he selectively release crumbs of information about his clients.”

Hardin has asked the court to consider Watson’s motion and compel the refiling of “Jane Doe No. 7” in expedited fashion. If the motion is granted, it’s expected Hardin will seek for all of the anonymous civil suits to be refiled with the legal names of the accusers attached.

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