The legal storm that has descended on Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, with more than a dozen women accusing him of behavior ranging from inappropriate touching to sexual harassment, involves two prominent Texas lawyers whose approaches could hardly be more different.
Tony Buzbee, the plaintiffs’ attorney, has made daily headlines on social media and held a press conference about the trial, while the defense attorney, Rusty Hardin, has said very little. Chris Tritico, a Houston attorney who has represented Moses Malone, Gary Sheffield and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, said the opposition will be shifted to the courtroom if Watson’s cases ever reach trial.
There’s no doubt about it, said Tritico, who predicted a contest between the bright, energetic, loud [Buzbee] and the more methodical, southern gentleman, kinder style [Hardin], and it would be a real rivalry between them, no doubt.
Look at the lawyers involved in this high-profile case:
For applicants: Tony Buzby
Attorney Tony Buzby, center, handles big cases against tough opponents. He is seen here with attorneys Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey (left) and Crystal Del Toro, who will also be working on cases against Deshaun Watson. Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP
Buzbee grew up in East Texas and attended Texas A&M, where he served in the school’s famed Cadet Corps. After graduation, he joined the Marines, served in Somalia and fought in the first Gulf War. He then went to the University of Houston to study law. During that time, he became editor of the Houston Law Review and graduated cum laude in 1997. Before founding the Buzby Law Firm in 1999, Mr. Buzby worked as a case manager for a federal judge and a Houston law firm.
Since then, he has shown a penchant for making big punches against strong opponents. It should be noted that several claims have been made against British Petroleum following incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the 2009 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He won a $100 million award, but it was later reduced on appeal. Buzbee represented former Texas Governor Rick Perry against abuse of office charges in 2014 – the first time Buzbee has 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 raise $189 million. The Texas Hurricane Windstorm Insurance Association is suing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association for $200,000. I like being an agent of change. Destroyer, Buzbee told the Houston Chronicle in a 2019 interview. I like to help someone who has not been treated fairly and try to solve the problem. That’s what I like best. So if I feel like we’re not in that position, I usually don’t take the case. If I think a client has been scammed, I will take the matter into my own hands to resolve it. I think everyone wants to believe that there is still justice; I want to believe it too.
Buzbee’s style is bold and daring. The doorknobs of his law office, located on the 73rd floor. The floors of the JP Morgan Chase tower, the tallest building in Texas, are shaped like a shark. He has a tattoo of a shark on his right forearm and a shark on his tail. And Buzbee has a social life. He slept on the streets of Houston in February to bring attention to homelessness and is running for mayor of Houston in 2019. One of his promises was to donate his salary as mayor to a randomly selected voter each year. He eventually lost the second round to Sylvester Taylor. In 2013 he became a regent at Texas A&M and the following year he bought a poster asking if Johnny Manziel would be the quarterback (it didn’t happen and instead Jadeveon Clowney was chosen first). He also called on the school to fire football coach Kevin Sumlin in 2017.
He once bought a World War II Sherman tank named Cheyenne and parked it on the street in front of his home in Houston before moving it to his ranch and finally 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, live. Buzbee said Friday that although the McNairs live nearby, he does not know Cal McNair and is not a fan of the Texans.
Buzbee’s approach in one particular case was similar to his previous approach to claims against Watson. Born into a family of oil magnates, Stanley Marsh 3 was a patron of eclectic art, best known for his Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo. In 2012, Buzby Marsh sued on behalf of teens who claimed to have been sexually abused, collecting 10 cases to take to court.
Buzbee made an impression in 2013, according to an article in Texas Monthly, when it placed a full-page ad in the Amarillo Globe-News that read: Our law firm represents several young men who were allegedly sexually abused by Stanley Marsh 3. If you have any information about these allegations or similar behavior by Mr. Marsh, at any time, we would like to speak with you immediately.
Marsh 3 settled 10 lawsuits brought by Buzbee for an undisclosed amount.
I live to fight the strong for the weak, Buzbee said when he was in Texas. I like to cheat my clients out of a lot of money and scare the crap out of those who challenge me.
Despite the grandstanding, Buzbee knows what he’s doing in the courtroom, Tritico said.
Tritico says good process skills is something you have in you from the start. You can learn to ask questions, but you have to have the inner ability to stand in a courtroom in front of a group of people looking at you, and have the ability and skill to overcome the fear of public speaking that everyone is born with, and have the ability to control the witness, and he did.
Mr. Buzby is joined on his team by Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, Brittany Ifejica and Crystal Del Toro. Brandfield-Harvey, a Houston resident who worked for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, ran illegal strip clubs and massage parlors that engaged in prostitution and human trafficking. Del Toro joined Buzbee in 2014 and has worked on civil cases, including sexual assault. Ifejika, who earned her law degree from the University of Texas, completed a fellowship with the Texas Advocacy Project before joining Buzbee. During her residency she worked with victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
for Watson: Rusty Hardin
Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has represented other high-profile athletes, including Adrian Peterson after he was arrested for beating his 4-year-old son with a chopstick. Bob Levy/Getty Images
Hardin, 79, is known for his affairs with celebrities. His firm’s website lists this activity as one of his practice areas. He has worked with both sides of the process, both at the prosecution level as a civil and criminal lawyer.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, serving in Vietnam, returning and graduating from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1975, Mr. Hardin worked as an assistant district attorney in Harris County for 15 years. Hardin’s 2002 profile in Texas Monthly indicated that as a prosecutor in more than 100 trials, he had never lost a case. In 1991, he became a partner at Hardin, Beers, Hagstette & Davidson. In 1994, he was legal counsel to the Whitewater investigation led by Robert Fiske and Ken Starr. Two years later, he opened his own law firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, dedicated to civil and criminal defense.
In many ways, he has become an advocate for the stars, including professional athletes. His best-known client is Roger Clemens, whom he represented in a lawsuit over Mitchell’s report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Hardin’s law 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 drunk driving case (dismissed); Wade Boggs in a flight attendant case against Boggs for verbal abuse (verdict in Boggs’ favor); Warren Moon in an assault case against his wife (acquitted). He also represented Adrian Peterson after he was arrested for hitting his 4-year-old son with a wand (no appeal, no jail time).
Hardin’s most famous case was when he represented the son of billionaire J. Edgar Hoover. Howard Marshall v. Former Playmate Anna Nicole Smith, whom Marshall married 14 months before his death.
The inheritance becomes both a lawsuit and a gossip story, especially when Hardin cross-examines Smith. At one point, he asked her: Ma’am. Marshall, have you taken any more acting classes?
Smith’s reaction after grabbing the towel: Fuck you, Rusty.
In numerous interviews, Hardin has stated that the lines follow him everywhere. But he said 20/20: It never offended me. Hardin also won this case by playing You light up my life during closing arguments, as it was said earlier in the trial that Smith was the light in Marshall’s life.
I said I had something that I thought would reflect the spirit of the process, Hardin told The New York Times in 2001. Then Debbie Boone’s voice began to sing, and the judges burst into tears.
Even in cases where he lost. He was the lawyer for Arthur Andersen LLP in the obstruction of justice case – he makes a good impression. He turned what many thought would be an easy win for the government into 10 days of jury deliberation.
He kept us in the spotlight, the juror in the case, Jack Gallo, told the Wall Street Journal in 2002. You never know what will come out of his mouth. Tritico said he shared Hardin’s deceptive style.
I don’t want to say Tony is rude, but our style is not aggressive, Tritico said. Our style is slow, methodical, we take what we need and smile at them as we slowly hit them with our knives.
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