Sean Pendergast

Rusty Hardin On Going to Trial With Watson Plaintiffs: "Oh, Absolutely!"

Friday finally contained some positive developments for Deshaun Watson.
Friday finally contained some positive developments for Deshaun Watson. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Since the Deshaun Watson civil lawsuit parade began back in the middle of March, Friday has been a tentpole day each week. Tony Buzbee has used Friday afternoons and evenings to announce lawsuits being filed, hold press conferences, and react on social media. Generally speaking, for the last month or so, Friday has been a rough day of the week for Deshaun Watson.

That changed today, as two separate judges ruled in two different emergency hearings, requested by Watson's attorney Rusty Hardin, that 13 of the 22 plaintiffs accusing Watson of sexual misconduct and assault must refile their civil lawsuits, but this time with their actual names attached, eliminating the "Jane Doe" pseudonyms utilized by plaintiffs' attorney Tony Buzbee in the 22 lawsuit documents.

The two judges involved were Judge Dedra Davis of the 270th district court, who ruled on one of the 22 cases, and Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier of the 113th district court, who ruled on the 12 additional women. Among the 12 women overseen by Collier was Ashley Solis, the first woman to file suit against Watson and the central figure of a Buzbee-orgainzed press conference earlier this week. The only other woman to voluntarily identify herself, aside from Solis, was Lauren Baxley. Her lawsuit was not part of either hearing on Friday morning.

The reason why Friday was a win for Watson is fairly simple — up to this point, the anonymity of the 20 plaintiffs not named Solis or Baxley has been a major issue for Hardin in mounting a defense for the Texans' quarterback. Hardin has repeatedly vented his frustrations over Buzbee trying the case over social media, portraying Watson as a sexual predator, with no opportunity for Hardin to mount a specific defense against Watson's accusers.

Hardin's contention, from a legal standpoint, rested upon two specific laws that pertain to civil lawsuits — one requiring plaintiffs to use their actual names, and the other giving the defense proper notice of the lawsuit.  “Over two weeks, we tried to investigate these things privately. We couldn’t and shouldn’t have to,” Hardin said during the first hearing on Friday morning.

Later on Friday afternoon, Hardin conducted a press conference at the Hilton Americas downtown. Here are the key takeaways from that press conference:

Deshaun Watson was in Houston, but not present at the press conference
Hardin began the proceedings by acknowledging the elephant in the room — Deshaun Watson's absence from the court proceedings and the press conference. Hardin made it clear that it Watson's possible presence was discussed, but in the end, they were never going to have him answer questions, so it made little sense to have him sitting there and saying nothing.

Rusty Hardin had several female associates from his firm as part of the presentation
As part of the backdrop of his team's efforts in defending Watson, Hardin made the female ethos of his firm, both in totality and in handling this case, a big part of Friday's presentation. Hardin mentioned that his firm consists of a majority of lawyers who are women, and that at the partner level, it is virtually split between male and female. On the stage, he had associates Letitia Quinones, Rachel Lewis, Lara Hollingsworth, and Leah Graham all sitting up front, and all would end up speaking on behalf of Watson. Quinones and Lewis, in particular, were tasked with spending two days with Watson before the firm would take on the case, so they could determine essentially whether or not they thought Watson was capable of the allegations against him. In short, they obviously found Watson's denials to be credible. Quinones, in particular, was a fascinating listen, as she is an assault survivor herself. Her defense of Watson was passionate, and at times, bordered on bizarre, as she said that he needed the frequent massages to maintain his skills as a football "escape artist."

COVID and "young people on Instagram" will be big parts of Hardin's defense of Watson
The lawsuits all have massages with service dates that begin AFTER the coronavirus shutdown occurred, so we have speculated for a while on my radio show that COVID and the unavailability of Watson's normal massage therapists could be cited as a reason for his heavily scrutinized approach to massages in 2020 and 2021. Hardin, on Friday, confirmed that part of the reason Watson has utilized so many new massage folks is because his usual therapists were allegedly not available. Also, while many have shaken their collective head at Watson's use of Instagram to find folks to service him, Hardin cited people in Watson's age group using Instagram for procuring services as normal. These will be big elements to Watson's defense against public perception and, possibly, in court.

Hardin acknowledged "consensual encounters" took place
He didn't say with whom, but Hardin did at one point, in passing, mention that consensual sexual encounters occurred. We know that in at least one instance, with Jane Doe Number 3, Watson was allegedly the subject of a blackmail effort for $30,000, and his marketing manager, Brian Burney, acknowledge in a signed affidavit that Watson engaged in consensual sexual activity.  "At some of these massages, some sexual activity took place. Never at any time did this young man ever engage in anything not mutually desired by the other party," Hardin said at the press conference. Hardin also claimed that when Watson found out the consensual activity was couched as rape in the civil lawsuit, the Texans' quarterback cried.

Hardin, for now, claims they will take this to trial
While many speculate that all of the activity from Buzbee and Hardin over the last several days is about positioning for a possible settlement, Hardin is still outwardly claiming they intend to prove Watson's innocence at a  trial. When asked Friday whether he intends to go to trial over these lawsuits, Hardin succinctly answered, "Oh, absolutely."

For his part, here was Buzbee's response to the developments of Friday morning and afternoon:

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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