Deshaun Watson’s attorney wins court battle to reveal identity of accusers

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Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist
·3-min read
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HOUSTON — In a decision that is expected to impact nearly all 22 of the civil lawsuit cases against Deshaun Watson, a judge ruled that the Houston Texans quarterback has the legal right to know the name of one of the Jane Doe plaintiffs who is accusing him of sexual assault.

U.S. District Court Judge Dedra Davis ruled in favor of Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, during an emergency hearing Friday requesting that a Jane Doe plaintiff must re-file her civil suit against the quarterback using her legal name, effectively agreeing with Hardin’s argument that the women do not meet the requirements for anonymity under laws guiding civil litigation in Texas. 

The judge’s ruling was reached in spite of a protest from the plaintiff's attorney, Tony Buzbee, who argued that exposing the names of the women will open them up to death threats and harassment that another accuser, Ashley Solis, has encountered since revealing her name earlier this week in a news conference. Buzbee represents Solis and the other 21 women who have brought civil suits against Watson.

It’s a significant judicial ruling in Watson's favor.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 27: Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans walks off the field after a 37-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans walks off the field after a 37-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at NRG Stadium on Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

While the ruling comes in on one of the 22 “Jane Doe” plaintiffs, Hardin’s legal argument will now be applied by the Watson defense team to all of the other women who have filed suits under the Jane Doe pseudonym while alleging that Watson assaulted them in Texas. Unless Buzbee can find some other argument that overrides the legal outcome of Friday’s decision, it will give Hardin the traction to compel most of the 22 alleged victims to re-file their lawsuits under their legal names. 

The precedent will not apply to at least two women who accuse Watson of assaulting them separately in Georgia and California. As it stands, only two of Watson’s accusers have revealed their names publicly: Solis and Lauren Baxley.

The other significance in Friday’s ruling for Watson is that a revelation of names could impact the motivation of plaintiffs to continue seeking a legal remedy to their claims. While Watson currently faces 22 suits, some of the women making claims could pursue a private settlement or decline to re-file altogether if they do not want their identities opened to public scrutiny. Buzbee’s argument for extending anonymity to the women appeared to lean into this reality. And although he didn’t specify the nature or source of the multiple death threats allegedly made against Solis since she made a public statement earlier this week, the woman’s professional Instagram page has drawn hundreds of critical comments and accusations related to her accusations against Watson.

Hardin was granted Friday’s emergency hearing after filing a motion accusing Buzbee of using the women’s anonymity in the cases as “a sword” against Watson rather than a protective measure. In his motion he stated that Texas law did not grant anonymity to the women — none of whom is believed to be a minor — in civil filings. He further argued that Buzbee’s use of anonymity allowed Watson to be attacked in the media, while Watson's ability to defend himself was subdued by the ramifications of “guessing wrong” while identifying the women who were making the claims and potentially drawing an innocent party into media scrutiny.

Hardin won a series of rulings in the hearings, resulting in at least 13 of the Jane Doe plaintiffs having to refile their lawsuits with their legal names attached. It is expected that given those rulings, all 22 Jane Does will eventually have to refile their suits with their names attached.

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