Sean Pendergast

Five Key Things From Rusty Hardin Firing Back at Tony Buzbee

Rusty Hardin (picture, left) and Tony Buzbee continued their war of words in the Deshaun Watson legal battle.
Rusty Hardin (picture, left) and Tony Buzbee continued their war of words in the Deshaun Watson legal battle. Screenshot from YouTube
In the heavyweight battle between the two lead attorneys in the Deshaun Watson legal saga, the one that's been trying the case through the media, through Instagram, and through general public spectacle has been Tony Buzbee, the lead attorney for the 22 plaintiffs suing Watson for sexual misconduct in a massage setting.

The latest salvo from the Buzbee camp came on Tuesday, when, in an interview with Amy Dash of the website "League of Justice," Buzbee revealed that the FBI was investigating Watson, including conducting three interviews with Buzbee and several with his clients:
“Let’s be clear, when somebody comes into your office on the 73rd floor of the Chase Tower, whether they’re the FDA or the FBI, it’s a big deal,” Buzbee told Amy Dash of leagueofjustice.com. “Well, it was the FBI. . . . They contacted me and I’ve met with them three times now and now they’ve met with several of the plaintiffs in the case.”
Meanwhile, over on the Watson side of the legal equation, Rusty Hardin has tried to stay mum and keep all dealings in the case out of the public eye, as best he can. Unfortunately for Hardin, Buzbee's reveal of the FBI's activity required a response. And wow, did Hardin respond! In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Hardin did an 11-minute monologue in which he pointed everything from how reckless Buzbee's tactics are for Buzbee's clients to how Buzbee is almost addicted to the limelight, implying Buzbee gets jumpy if several days go by and he hasn't seen his own name in the headlines.

It's a fascinating watch, and at least based on Hardin's activity on behalf of THIS particular client, somewhat out of character for Hardin:
Here are five important, quick-hit thoughts after reviewing the footage of the press conference:

Rusty Hardin apparently has very little respect for Tony Buzbee's tactics and criminal law acumen
It's become evident that one of Buzbee's tactics he will use to try to force Watson's hand and get him to settle the civil lawsuits (the outcome that Hardin claims is Buzbee's desired outcome) is to use normal milestones in a case like this and portray them as wildly significant. When Mark Berman of FOX 26 reported late last week that a grand jury investigation was underway in Harris County, the mere words "grand jury" sent the city into a tizzy. Hardin pointed out on Wednesday that a grand jury investigation is a normal, logical part of the process. Also, Hardin was not a fan of Buzbee's reveal of FBI activity in this case:
"I do want to serve notice that if people lie to the FBI, that's a felony, so I urge you that if they contact you, tell the truth, whatever that is. We don't want to get in the way of anyone expressing themselves.. The whole reason there was never settlement discussions is because we have insisted from the beginning that EVERYTHING be public, except for private investigations. I can only conclude that Mr. Buzbee's knowledge of the criminal justice system, if you were to put it in a thimble, there would be a lot of room left. What he has done here is harm his clients and harm investigations that need to be confidential."
I need to save that thimble line, and use it one day if any of the coaches of my favorite teams make egregious decision making errors during games. Moving on....

Rusty Hardin went all-in on Shenee Lawson (Jane Doe No. 3)
The most compelling part of the press conference was when Hardin used text message exchanges between Watson and one of his accusers (Shenee Lawson, Plaintiff in lawsuit number three) to illustrate what Hardin and Watson see as the truth. In this case, Hardin was trying to show that sexual activity that may have taken place during Watson's encounter with Lawson was consensual:
"Let me read to you text messages [Shenee Lawson] sent to Deshaun Watson the [day of] the massage she says so traumatized her. 'Hey Deshaun. Just wanted to say thank you for trusting me with your massage today. I'll be here until January the 3rd if you'd like to get another one.' I urge you to look at that text and see if that is consistent with her petition."

"She writes him on a text, 'I hope all is well. I just want to say, I apologize for my actions. That's not me. If I could take back that moment, I would. I really devalued my integrity, and profession. My sessions have never went like that. I feel really horrible as a person.'"

"This is the woman who later in the lawsuit alleges that [Watson] forced her to have oral sex and then was very descriptive about how horrible the experience was. Then she writes him.. 'Hey Deshaun I know you're probably busy but can you scan me the original copy of the NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) via email? Also, wanted to ask you.. If you are interested in a follow up call to make sure we are on the same page about a game plan moving forward.'"
In her civil lawsuit against Watson, Lawson accuses Watson of some very graphic sexual misconduct, including Watson's forcing her to perform oral sex on him. Watson's camp contended long ago that Lawson was trying to extort money from Watson before filing her lawsuit. This was a powerful sequence for Hardin on Wednesday.

Rusty Hardin came in weapons hot, issuing warnings to Buzbee
This part of the press conference is what will make Buzbee's next maneuver so fascinating, because it appears the gloves are off, and Hardin isn't standing for any more of Buzbee's tactics and strategies:
"I do want to serve notice to everyone — if you decide to continue to make these comments publicly instead of working with law enforcement as we should, then we can always respond, and the truth is not going to be your friend. I hope everyone will back up and relax now, and realize that orderly investigations are going on. HPD, we've given them info, and they are diligently investigating."
Deshaun Watson has still not talked to the NFL
In a brief question and answer period after Hardin's monologue, Watson's attorney revealed that the NFL has not spoken with Watson yet. It's not all that surprising that Roger Goodell (nor their investigative team) hasn't spoken with Watson, as typically the league won't talk to the player being investigated until all of the witnesses have been interviewed. However, it is a reminder that we probably need to be hunkered down for the long haul here, and put any trade talk involving Watson on the back burner. The league, the police, and now the FBI are all investigating, while 22 civil lawsuits are awaiting trials that won't start until the middle of 2022, at the earliest.

Rusty Hardin adamantly maintains that Watson is innocent of all charges
Hardin closed his statement on Watson with another declaration of Watson's innocence:

"Deshaun Watson did nothing illegal or improper, and I'm confident that all those investigations will show that. I do believe we should leave law enforcement to their professional duties rather than constantly having these press conferences and stuff.. I didn't want to be here."
And before you could even say "Your move now, Buzbee," in came Buzbee's responding scud missile:
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast