Over the past several weeks, 22 unnamed women have filed lawsuits against Deshaun Watson, alleging sexual misconduct or assault by the Houston Texans quarterback.
Now, Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, is asking that they come forward publicly.
Hardin announced Thursday that his team has filed a motion in Harris County District Court asking a judge to require one of the women, known only as “Jane Doe,” to refile her lawsuit with her name included – and to do so within two business days.
A spokesperson for Hardin confirmed that his team is filing similar motions in the other cases, effectively pushing for all 22 plaintiffs to attach their names to their complaints.
Two of the women, Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, came forward publicly during a news conference Tuesday hosted by Tony Buzbee, their lawyer.
“As discussed in our filing, Mr. Buzbee’s use of anonymous lawsuits violates Texas law and the basic concept of fairness,” Hardin said in a statement. “It is clear that, for Mr. Buzbee, this case has never been about seeking justice in a courtroom, but destroying Deshaun’s reputation to enhance his own public profile and enrich himself.
“While I understand that anonymity often is used as a shield for victims, Mr. Buzbee is using it as a sword.”
Buzbee did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
The fight over the plaintiffs’ anonymity comes as the Houston Police Department continues to investigate a criminal complaint it received against Watson. Buzbee said Tuesday that two of his clients have provided information to police.
The NFL is also investigating the matter independently, under the auspices of its personal conduct policy.
Each of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against Watson has alleged similar conduct, under similar circumstances. They claim the 25-year-old quarterback exposed himself, touched them with his genitals, made sexually suggestive remarks or otherwise harassed or assaulted them during separate massage sessions dating back to March 2020.
Watson has not been charged with a crime, and he has broadly denied wrongdoing. Hardin reiterated in his statement Thursday that Watson “did not force, coerce or intimidate anyone to do anything against their will.”
Legal experts told USA TODAY Sports last month that the fight over the anonymity of the plaintiffs is typically part of the traditional “playbook” in cases of this ilk.
Steve Kelly, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp and co-chair of the law firm’s criminal/sexual violence practice group, said that in some cases, defense attorneys will hire “a very aggressive investigator to basically dig up dirt on the victim.”
“And in the process of that investigation, they can use the victim’s name,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hardin has argued that without knowing the names of the plaintiffs, it is impossible for Watson to properly defend himself.
“Mr. Watson’s counsel cannot in good conscience publicly respond to the specific allegations being made because any response would be based on dangerous speculation about the identity of the accusers,” Hardin’s team wrote in its filing Thursday.
“It is easy to imagine the harm that would be caused if Ms. Doe was mistakenly identified.”
Hardin is required to file formal responses to some of the lawsuits as early as Monday.
Contributing: Brent Schrotenboer