Judge orders one accuser of Texans QB Watson to be ID’d

HOUSTON — A judge on Friday ordered that the name of one of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits accusing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault and harassment must be made public.

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, has asked that all the women, who have sued under the name Jane Doe, be publicly identified so his client can “have a chance at properly defending himself.” Hardin has called the claims against Watson “meritless” and that the NFL player “did not force, coerce or intimidate anyone to do anything against their will.”

During a Zoom court hearing over one of the lawsuits, Hardin accused Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the 22 women, of using their anonymity to “kill the reputation of our client.”

“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 … Mr. Buzbee is wielding plaintiff’s anonymity as a sword instead of a shield,” Hardin said in court documents this week.

But Buzbee asked state District Judge Dedra Davis to keep the woman’s name private, arguing such actions are common in cases dealing with allegations of sexual assault. Buzbee also told Davis that another woman who decided earlier this week to be named publicly has already received death threats.

In the case heard Friday morning, Buzbee asked that the name be released to Hardin and his legal team, but that they should not make her identity public.

Davis disagreed, saying Buzbee’s legal team might be getting an unfair advantage in the case because of his use of media coverage.

“We need a balance of interests. A balance of interests is required for both parties,” Davis said at the end of the short hearing. The judge ordered that the woman’s lawsuit be refiled within two days with her name on it.

A different judge was set later Friday to review similar requests by Hardin to reveal the names of Watson’s accusers in 12 of the other lawsuits.

The 22 women accuse Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will while he got a massage. At least one woman has alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex during a massage in December. All of the women who have sued Watson are either licensed massage therapists or worked in a spa or similar business. The first lawsuit was filed on March 16 and the most recent one was filed Monday.

The first woman who filed a lawsuit, Ashley Solis, spoke publicly on Tuesday, alleging she was terrorized by her encounter with Watson and that she suffers from panic attacks, anxiety, depression and is no longer comfortable working as a massage therapist. The Associated Press usually does not name victims of sexual assault, but Solis has chosen to publicly identify herself.

Houston police and the NFL have said they are investigating the allegations against Watson.

In a recent email to season ticket holders, Texans chairman Cal McNair, whose family owns the team, said they were aware of the lawsuits against Watson and that the team takes “these allegations very seriously.”

Nike has suspended its endorsement contract with Watson amid the allegations against him.

Watson is one of the league’s top quarterbacks and led the NFL in yards passing last season. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason, but he became unhappy with the direction of the team as Houston sunk to 4-12. Watson requested a trade in January.

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70