The rulings from two hearings Friday cover 13 of the 22 lawsuits filed against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct. 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.
During Friday’s first hearing, 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 shared an example of a threatening message sent to Solis.
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.
Buzbee and Hardin also agreed that the 22 lawsuits could be consolidated in the 113th district court for any pre-trial 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.
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