Leading Texas attorneys clash in cases involving Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson


The legal storm brewing 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 hardly they could be more different in their approaches.

Tony Buzbee, the plaintiffs’ attorney, has been in the daily headlines on social media and held a press 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 shooter Timothy McVeigh, said the contrast will move to trial if Watson’s cases ever make it to a courtroom.

“There’s no question about that,” Tritico said, predicting a showdown of “the flamboyant, direct, noisy [Buzbee] Against the most methodical and southern gentleman, the friendliest style [of Hardin] and it would be a true juxtaposition between the two, no doubt. “

Here’s a look at the attorneys at the forefront of this high-profile case:

To the plaintiffs: Tony Buzbee

Buzbee grew up in East Texas and attended Texas A&M, where he was in the school’s famous Cadet Corps. 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 an information attorney for a federal judge and a Houston law firm before starting The Buzbee Law Firm in 1999.

Since then, he has shown a penchant for big cases against powerful opponents. Notable cases include several against British Petroleum following accidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the 2009 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It won a $ 100 million award, but was later reduced on appeal. Buzbee represented former Texas Gov. Rick Perry against charges of abuse of power in 2014, the first time Buzbee defended a criminal case. He won a case for Jimmy Buffett when it was alleged that someone was illegally using the singer’s trademark.

After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Buzbee helped secure a $ 189 million settlement against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association for damage relief. “I like being an agent of change. A disruptor,” Buzbee said in a 2019 Houston Chronicle interview. “I like helping someone who hasn’t been treated fairly and trying to rectify that. That’s what I enjoy the most. Generally, if I don’t feel like we’re in that position, I won’t take the case. ” . If I think a customer has been wronged, I will take a case to fix it. I think everyone wants to believe that there is still justice; I want to believe that too. “

Buzbee’s style is cheeky and daring. The door handles of his law firm, located on the 73rd floor of the JP Morgan Chase Tower, the tallest building in Texas, are shaped like a shark. 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 streets of Houston 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 each year. He ended up losing a runoff to Sylvester Taylor. In 2013, he became regent of Texas A&M, and the following year he bought a billboard imploring the Texans to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel (they did not, but chose Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick). He also asked the school to fire soccer coach Kevin Sumlin in 2017.

He once purchased a World War II era Sherman tank, called the Cheyenne, and initially parked it on the street in front of his Houston mansion before moving it to his ranch and finally donating it to his alma mater in 2018. Same River Oaks neighborhood where the McNair family, the owners of the Texans, lived. Buzbee said Friday that although the McNairs live nearby, he does not know Cal McNair and is not a Texans fan.

Buzbee’s approach to one particular case was similar to his actions thus far regarding the lawsuits against Watson. Stanley Marsh 3 was part of a family of oil tycoons and a patron of the eclectic arts best known for underwriting the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo. In 2012, Buzbee sued Marsh on behalf of the teens who said they had been sexually abused, compiling 10 cases to take to court.

Buzbee caused quite a stir, according to a 2013 Texas Monthly story, by running full-page advertisements in the Amarillo Globe-News that read “Our firm represents several 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 regardless of when it occurred, we want to speak with you immediately. “

Marsh 3 settled the 10 lawsuits brought by Buzbee for an undisclosed sum.

“I live to fight on behalf of the weak against the powerful,” Buzbee told Texas Monthly at the time. “I enjoy getting my clients a lot of money and putting the fear of God in those who are unlucky enough to oppose me.”

Despite the bombast, Buzbee knows what he’s doing in the courtroom, Tritico said.

“A good litigation skill comes because you have that inside of you to begin with,” Tritico said. “You can learn to ask questions, but you must have that inner ability to stand in a courtroom in front of a group of people looking at you and have the skill and ability to overcome the fear of public speaking that everyone is born with. with and has the ability to control a witness and he has it. “

Buzbee will be joined on her 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 illegal strip clubs and massage parlors that dealt with 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 from the University of Texas, had a scholarship from the Texas Advocacy Project before being hired by Buzbee. While there, he worked with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

To Watson: Rusty Hardin

Hardin, 79, is known for high-profile cases involving celebrity clients. On your company website, it is listed as one of your practice areas. He has worked on both sides of the litigation, both in the prosecution 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 School of Law in 1975, Hardin worked as an assistant district attorney in Harris County for 15 years. A 2002 Texas Monthly profile of Hardin said he never lost a case as a prosecutor in more than 100 trials. In 1991, he entered private practice as a partner at Hardin, Beers, Hagstette & Davidson. In 1994, he served as legal counsel during the Whitewater investigation under the direction of Robert Fiske and Ken Starr. Two years later, he opened his own firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, dedicated to criminal and civil defense work.

In many ways, he has become an advocate for the stars, particularly professional athletes. His best known client was Roger Clemens, whom he represented in litigation surrounding the Mitchell report on 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 filed by a flight attendant against Boggs alleging verbal assault (verdict in favor of Boggs); and Warren Moon, accused of assaulting his wife (acquitted). He also represented Adrian Peterson after his arrest for spanking his 4-year-old son with a switch (declaration of no show, no jail time).

Hardin’s most famous case, however, was when he represented billionaire J. Howard Marshall’s son against former Playboy front page Anna Nicole Smith, who had married Marshall 14 months before his death.

The inheritance became both a legal case and a tabloid sideshow, especially when Hardin questioned Smith. At one point he asked, “Ms. Marshall, have you been taking any new acting lessons?”

Smith’s response, after grabbing a tissue: “Fuck you, Rusty.”

In multiple interviews, Hardin has said the line followed him everywhere. But he told “20/20”: “He never offended me.” Hardin won that case as well, playing “You Light Up My Life” during closing arguments because earlier in the trial there had been reference to Smith being Marshall’s light of life.

“I said I had something that 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 roared with laughter.”

Even in the cases where he has lost, he was the attorney for Arthur Andersen LLP in an obstruction of justice trial, it leaves an impression. It turned what many believed was an easy victory for the government into 10 days of jury deliberation.

“It kept us focused,” one juror on the case, Jack Gallo, told the Wall Street Journal in 2002. “You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.” Tritico said he shares Hardin’s deceptively laid-back style.

“I’m not saying 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 slowly poking them with knives.”

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