The legal storm gathering around Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, with more than a dozen women now accusing him of conduct ranging from inappropriate touching to sexual assault, features two prominent Texas attorneys who could hardly be more different in their approaches.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has been making headlines daily on social media and has held a news conference on the lawsuits, while defense attorney Rusty Hardin has said almost nothing. Chris Tritico, a Houston attorney who has represented Moses Malone, Gary Sheffield and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, said the contrast will carry over to trial if Watson’s cases ever see a courtroom.
“There’s no question about that,” Tritico said, predicting a matchup of “the flamboyant, in-your-face, up-and-loud [Buzbee] against the more methodical and Southern gentleman, friendlier style [of Hardin] and it would be a true juxtaposition between the two, no question.”
Here’s a look at the lawyers who are out front in this high-profile case:
For the plaintiffs: Tony Buzbee
Buzbee grew up in East Texas and attended Texas A&M, where he was in the school’s famed Corps of Cadets. After graduation he joined the Marine Corps, serving in Somalia and the first Persian Gulf War. He then went to law school at the University of Houston Law Center. While there, he became the managing editor of the Houston Law Review and graduated summa cum laude in 1997. Buzbee was a briefing attorney for a federal judge and a Houston law firm before starting The Buzbee Law Firm in 1999.
He has since shown a penchant for big cases against powerful opponents. Notable cases include several against British Petroleum after accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009. He won a $100 million award, but it was later reduced on appeal. Buzbee represented former Texas Gov. Rick Perry against abuse of power charges in 2014 — the first time Buzbee had defended a criminal case. He won a case for Jimmy Buffett when it was alleged someone was using the singer’s trademark illegally.
After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Buzbee helped earn a $189 million settlement against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association for relief from damages. “I like being a change agent. A disrupter,” Buzbee said in a 2019 Houston Chronicle interview. “I like helping someone who hasn’t been dealt a fair hand and trying to rectify that. That’s what I enjoy the most. So usually, if I don’t feel like we are in that position, I won’t take the case. If I believe a client has been wronged, I’ll take a case to square that. I think everybody wants to believe that there is still justice; I want to believe that too.”
Buzbee’s style is brash and bold. The door handles at his law firm, located on the 73rd floor of the JP Morgan Chase Tower, the tallest building in Texas, are shaped like sharks. He has a shark tattoo on his right forearm and a shark on the tail of his jet. And Buzbee lives a public life. He slept on the Houston streets for a night in February to draw attention to homelessness and ran for mayor of Houston in 2019. One of his promises was to give his mayoral salary to a random voter every year. He ended up losing a runoff election to Sylvester Taylor. In 2013, he became a Texas A&M regent, and the following year he bought a billboard imploring the Texans to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel (they didn’t, instead taking Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick). He also called for the school to fire football coach Kevin Sumlin in 2017.
He once bought a World War II-era Sherman tank — named Cheyenne — and initially parked it on the street in front of his Houston mansion before moving it to his ranch and eventually donating it to his alma mater in 2018. The tank was parked in the same River Oaks neighborhood where the McNair family — the owners of the Texans — lived. Buzbee said Friday even though the McNairs live nearby, he doesn’t know Cal McNair and is not a Texans fan.
Buzbee’s approach in one particular case was similar to his actions so far regarding the lawsuits against Watson. Stanley Marsh 3 was part of an oil tycoon family and an eclectic arts patron best known for underwriting the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo. In 2012, Buzbee sued Marsh on behalf of teenage boys who said they’d been sexually abused, compiling 10 cases to present to court.
Buzbee made a big splash, according to a 2013 Texas Monthly story, taking out full-page ads in the Amarillo Globe-News that read “our firm represents multiple young men who were allegedly sexually assaulted by Stanley Marsh 3. If you have information about these allegations, or any similar conduct by Mr. Marsh no matter when it occurred, we want to speak to you immediately.”
Marsh 3 settled the 10 suits brought by Buzbee for an undisclosed sum.
“I live for fighting on behalf of the weak against the powerful,” Buzbee told Texas Monthly at the time. “I enjoy getting my clients a bunch of money and putting the fear of God in those who are unfortunate enough to oppose me.”
Despite the bombast, Buzbee knows what he’s doing in the courtroom, Tritico said.
“Good litigation skill comes because you have that within you to begin with,” Tritico said. “You can learn how to ask questions but you have to have that ability inside to stand up in a courtroom in front of a bunch of people looking at you and have the skill and the ability to overcome the fear of public speaking that everyone is born with and have that ability to control a witness and he has that.”
Buzbee will be joined on his legal team by Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, Brittany Ifejika and Crystal Del Toro. Brandfield-Harvey is a Houston native who worked in the Harris County Attorney’s Office targeting strip clubs and illegal massage parlors that dealt in prostitution and human trafficking. Del Toro has worked for Buzbee since 2014 and handles civil litigation, including sexual abuse. Ifejika, who received her law degree at the University of Texas, had a fellowship with the Texas Advocacy Project prior to being hired by Buzbee. While there, she worked with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
For Watson: Rusty Hardin
Hardin, 79, is known for high-profile cases involving celebrity clients. On his firm’s website, it is listed as one of his areas of practice. He has worked on both sides of litigation, both in the prosecutor’s office and as a civil and criminal defense attorney.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, serving in Vietnam and then returning to attend and graduate from Southern Methodist University’s law school in 1975, Hardin worked as an assistant district attorney in Harris County for 15 years. A profile of Hardin by Texas Monthly in 2002 said he never lost a case as a prosecutor in over 100 trials. In 1991, he went into private practice as a partner in Hardin, Beers, Hagstette & Davidson. In 1994, he was a trial counselor during the Whitewater investigation under Robert Fiske and Ken Starr. Two years later, he opened his own firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, dealing with civil and criminal defense work.
In many ways, he has become an attorney to the stars, particularly professional athletes. His best-known client was Roger Clemens, whom he represented in litigation surrounding the Mitchell report about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Hardin’s firm also represented Clemens in a perjury case after the Justice Department accused him of lying to Congress. Clemens was acquitted. Hardin represented former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich in a DWI case (dismissed); Wade Boggs in a lawsuit brought by a flight attendant against Boggs alleging verbal assault (verdict in favor of Boggs); and Warren Moon on charges of assaulting his wife (acquitted). He also represented Adrian Peterson after his arrest for spanking his 4-year-old son with a switch (no-contest plea, no jail time).
Hardin’s most famous case, though, was when he represented the son of billionaire J. Howard Marshall against former Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith, who had married Marshall 14 months before his death.
The inheritance became both a legal case and tabloid sideshow, especially when Hardin cross-examined Smith. At one point he asked her, “Mrs. Marshall, have you been taking new acting lessons?”
Smith’s response, after grabbing a tissue: “Screw you, Rusty.”
In multiple interviews, Hardin has said the line followed him everywhere. But he told the “20/20”: “It never did offend me.” Hardin won that case, too, playing “You Light Up My Life,” during closing arguments because there had been reference earlier in the trial to Smith being the light of Marshall’s life.
“I said I had something I thought might capture the spirit of the trial,” Hardin told The New York Times in 2001. “Then Debby Boone’s voice started singing and the jury cracked up.”
Even in cases he has lost — he was the attorney for Arthur Andersen LLP in an obstruction of justice trial — he makes an impression. He turned what many believed to be an easy win for the government into 10 days of jury deliberation.
“He kept us focused,” a juror on the case, Jack Gallo, told the Wall Street Journal in 2002. “You never know what is going to come out of his mouth.” Tritico said he shares Hardin’s deceptively laid-back style.
“I’m not saying that Tony is rude, but our style is not aggressive,” Tritico said. “Our style is slow, methodical, getting what we need and smiling at them while we’re slowly poking them with knives.”
NFL role worries lawyer for women suing Deshaun Watson
Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the 22 women suing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, expressed concern to a Houston television station on Wednesday over how the National Football League is handling its investigation.
Buzbee, in speaking to FOX26 in Houston, said “some of the women did not feel like they were being respected” during their first three meetings with NFL investigators, which he told FOX led to him attending the four meeting between the league’s investigative group and his clients.
Buzbee told the television station four of his clients met with the league’s lead investigator, Lisa Friel, and he has “probably four more women who want to meet with the NFL,” but he’s not sure if he’s going to let them speak with the league’s investigators.
In his interview, Buzbee did not say what the league did to potentially make his clients feel that way. Watson is being sued by 22 women in civil court and being investigated by the Houston Police Department into claims ranging from inappropriate touching to sexual assault of massage therapists from March 2020 until March 2021.
“The allegations are very concerning and the league immediately began investigating the matter under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to ESPN on Thursday. “The investigation includes gathering information, monitoring law enforcement developments and conducting interviews with relevant people willing to participate with counsel present.
“Throughout her decades-long career as the chief of the sex crimes unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and most recently as the NFL’s special counsel for investigations for the last six years, Lisa has earned a stellar reputation as a consummate professional who conducts investigations and interviews with compassion and fairness in an effort to determine the truth.”
Buzbee also told FOX26 that eight-to-10 of his clients have met with the Houston Police Department and he was pleased with how the Houston PD has worked with his clients. In March, Buzbee had publicly said he wasn’t comfortable with his clients going to the Houston police. After a complainant went to the Houston Police Department, however, an investigation into Watson was opened.
On Thursday, a Houston Police Department spokesperson said “it remains an ongoing investigation” into allegations against Watson, but would not say how many women have spoken with police.
Buzbee also told FOX there are no plans to settle the case between Watson and the women suing him.
ESPN reporters John Barr and Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.
Tom Brady Sr. says he’s ‘salivating’ over Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New England Patriots Week 4 matchup
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady couldn’t contain his excitement with the NFL schedule release, posting on Instagram, “9/9 can’t come soon enough” when it was announced the Bucs would play the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Kickoff Game.
His father, Tom Brady Sr., is eyeing a different game though — Week 4 when the Bucs travel to play the New England Patriots, marking his son’s return to Foxborough after leading the Bucs to a Super Bowl win in his first season after 20 seasons with the Patriots.
“I saw the schedule come out last night and I started salivating when I saw that we play the Patriots in the fourth game of the season, and that we’re coming up here to make our record 4-0 after the fourth game,” Brady Sr. said on the “Zolak and Bertrand” radio show on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston on Thursday morning.
Shortly after his father’s surprise radio appearance, Brady tweeted about the game with a nervous grin, saying, “It’s like when your high school friends meet your college friends.”
It’s like when your high school friends meet your college friends 😬 https://t.co/RF5zVB9rI1
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) May 13, 2021
Brady Sr., who lives in California, called Boston their “second home” and called the Patriots their “second-favorite team,” expressing love for the organization and its fanbase. But he didn’t mince words, showing the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to being competitive.
“We expect to beat the Patriots rather handily, frankly,” Brady Sr. said.
“It’s not a matter of walking out of town and being unhappy. He had a happy 20 years there and most successful 20 years there. Now he’s in another place with another opportunity to win. That’s great. And the Patriots have reloaded and they’re gonna be fit to bear as well,” Brady Sr. said.
“From my take on it, I think it’s gonna be great. I get to have a favorite team in the AFC and a favorite team in the NFC. And then they play on the fourth week of the year. It’s been a really — I’m thrilled for this.”
As far as the possibility of Brady breaking the single-season passing record at Gillette Stadium (Brady is currently 1,154 yards behind Drew Brees), Brady Sr. said, “I think that the fans at Gillette will embrace him until the opening kickoff, and then they’re gonna boo the hell out of him, which is great.
“I think the fans appreciate everything he’s done. I assume that the fans have appreciated everything he’s done for them for 20 years, but at the same time they’re Patriots’ fans, they’re not Buccaneers fans. So while you’re rooting for Tommy, you’re rooting against the Buccaneers.”
Brady Sr. expressed great sentiment for his family’s time in New England.
“How do you do anything but appreciate everything what the Krafts have done for him, and Belichick has done for him? The coaching staff — these guys have been in the trenches for 20 years together,” Brady Sr. said.
But even dad isn’t clear how long his son will continue playing. He signed a contract extension this offseason to free up cap space — which was largely responsible for the Bucs being able to return all 22 Super Bowl starters on offense and defense — and it will keep him in Tampa Bay for two more years. But father time waits for no one.
“While he’s happy now, I think he’s starting to realize that the end of the career is coming to an end and he’s just savoring every moment as he walks down the final stretches — whether it’s next one year, two years, or 12 years,” Brady Sr. said.
According to Vivid Seats, the average ticket price for the game on Oct. 3 is $1,370 with prices as high as $12,000 on Ticketmaster.
Baltimore Ravens sign Donte Sylencieux, high school teammate of QB Lamar Jackson
Wide receiver Donte Sylencieux, one of nine undrafted rookies signed by the Ravens on Thursday, was Jackson’s favorite target when they played at Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Sylencieux caught 10 touchdown passes in two seasons with Jackson.
Sylencieux totaled 59 catches in three seasons at Graceland University — an NAIA school in Iowa – and is considered a long shot to make the Ravens. Baltimore selected two wide receivers in this year’s draft, including first-rounder Rashod Bateman, and added Sammy Watkins in free agency.
The Ravens are doing and saying all the right things lately as they pursue a lucrative extension with Jackson. General manager Eric DeCosta said the team would work “tirelessly” after the draft to get a new deal done with Jackson, and he recently told the team’s website that Jackson is “the kind of guy you’d be very proud of to have as a son.”
This isn’t the first time the Ravens have reunited Jackson with one of his former wide receivers. In 2019, the Ravens signed Jaylen Smith, Jackson’s top target at Louisville, as an undrafted rookie. Smith was cut before the regular season that year.
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