Judges order women suing Deshaun Watson to disclose names

HOUSTON -- Two judges have ruled that most of the plaintiffs suing Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson must identify themselves.

The rulings from two hearings Friday cover 13 of the 22 lawsuits filed against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct, while the attorneys also agreed to release a 14th name later in the day. Prior to Friday, only two women had been publicly identified.

During the second hearing, held in the 113th District Court, plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee and Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, agreed that nine of 12 women would publicly reveal their names by Wednesday after they told Buzbee they would do so voluntarily. Regarding the other three women, Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier granted Hardin's emergency motion requiring the release of their names.

Hardin said in a news conference that Buzbee also agreed to amend a lawsuit that had been set for an emergency hearing at 5 p.m. ET Friday to include the plaintiff's name. Court records show Hardin has filed motions asking that the remaining women who have not revealed their names also make their identities public.

During Friday's first hearing, in the 270th District Court, Hardin had accused Buzbee of using the women's anonymity to "kill the reputation of our client."

Buzbee argued that allowing anonymity is common in cases dealing with allegations of sexual assault. Buzbee said Ashley Solis, who publicly identified herself earlier this week, had received death threats, and during the second hearing he shared an example of a threatening message sent to Solis.

Hardin accused Buzbee of using news conferences and social media to make coordinated attacks against Watson that the quarterback's legal team could not fight because they don't know the women's identities. Hardin said he sympathizes with the online attacks the women have faced but that Watson has also suffered consequences, as he has been repeatedly called a rapist on social media.

Buzbee asked during the first hearing that the woman's name be released to Hardin and his legal team but that they should not make her identity public. Judge Dedra 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.

After the hearings, Buzbee released a statement saying the other women suing Watson have been "emboldened" by Solis going public with her experience.

"They are ready to be identified," Buzbee said. "In lawsuits sometimes we push hard for something that may turn out to not be helpful. As I said in Court, 'be careful what you ask for.' Identifying these women at this point adds even more credibility to the allegations being made, and I am proud to stand with these brave and courageous women."

Buzbee and Hardin also agreed that the 22 lawsuits could be consolidated in the 113th District Court for any pretrial matters.

Hardin had filed the emergency motion Thursday, saying, "Mr. Buzbee's use of anonymous lawsuits violates Texas law and the basic concept of fairness."

"While I understand that anonymity often is used as a shield for victims, Mr. Buzbee is using it as a sword," Hardin said in a statement. "While shielding his clients from public scrutiny, Mr. Buzbee continues to use their anonymous allegations to destroy Mr. Watson. This is simply not right. And we look forward to resolving these matters in court."

In response to Hardin's motion, Buzbee's law firm wrote that the effort was a "blatantly transparent attempt to further traumatize, humiliate and embarrass brave women who have come forward to seek justice for their assault, sexual assault, and harassment at the hands of a serial predator."

The plaintiff's response included examples of profane and threatening messages that Solis had received this week.

"Outing victims of sexual assault, assault and harassment can slow the healing process and force them to discontinue pursuing their cases," the law firm wrote.

Dallas-based attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel told ESPN's John Barr on Friday that Texas law leaves the decision of identifying adults making sexual assault accusations to the discretion of the courts.

"The way I explain it to my clients is that there's not a 100% chance that their name won't appear in a public file," Simpson Tuegel said. "I tell them I'm going to fight for it to remain under a pseudonym, but I want my clients to know that it's a possibility."

In a statement Tuesday, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy called the allegations against Watson "deeply disturbing," noting, "We take these issues very seriously."

McCarthy said the league launched an investigation under its personal conduct policy last month after the first allegations and that the NFL is "continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter."

Watson has denied the allegations in the lawsuits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.