(CNN) — At two separate emergency court hearings Friday, Harris County judges ruled that four of Deshaun Watson’s accusers must refile their lawsuits under their real names.
Attorney Tony Buzbee had filed the lawsuits on behalf of women who are listed in each suit as “Jane Doe.”
More than 20 women have filed lawsuits claiming misconduct. Watson has denied any wrongdoing.
A judge at a morning hearing considered one lawsuit.
Rusty Hardin and other attorneys for Watson had filed a motion Thursday claiming the Houston Texans quarterback could not mount a proper legal defense without knowing who his accuser is and accusing Buzbee of “conducting discovery by Facebook and trial by press conference.”
“Because Plaintiff’s counsel filed the actions anonymously, Mr. Watson’s counsel can only speculate about Plaintiff’s identity. Yet, it would be wildly irresponsible for Mr. Watson or his defense team to publicly speculate about it,” the motion said.
“The risk of being wrong is simply too high. A misidentified person would immediately and involuntarily be drawn into a public media frenzy.”
Buzbee countered that one of the two women whose names have been publicly released has received multiple death threats.
Harris County Judge Dedra Davis acknowledged both sides of the argument before ruling for Watson.
“You are both correct that we do need a balance of interest. A balance of the interest is required for both parties. You’re correct, attorney Hardin when you say that the accused is entitled to fair treatment. You’re correct, attorney Buzbee when you say the accuser is entitled to fair treatment,” Davis said. “It is the goal of this court to do as you both said: protect the women, protect due process concerns, but we also need to protect the public at large.”
A second hearing Friday considered 12 other lawsuits, but Buzbee said that nine of the 12 plaintiffs had agreed to amend their complaints to add their names, and will do so by Wednesday.
Judge Rabeea Collier ruled that the issue of whether those nine will have to identify themselves is moot, but said the other three women must use their real names.
“They are ready to be identified,” Buzbee said of his clients in a statement Friday. “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.”
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Hardin reiterated his client’s innocence. Watson was in “disbelief” about allegations that he forced a woman to engage in sexual activity and began crying when he was told, Hardin said.
Hardin said that he and Buzbee had agreed to send all pretrial motions through one judge and all trial matters through judges in the area where each case is being prosecuted.
Watson is an NFL superstar, having been selected for three Pro Bowls in his four seasons. According to the Spotrac website, he signed a four-year, $156 million contract in 2020.