Criminal-defense attorney Rusty Hardin has made a name for himself by taking on high-profile cases — and getting athletes out of jams.I'm sitting in the hotel bar of the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., among all its beaux arts grandeur and overstated elegance, waiting for my old law-school buddy Rusty Hardin to show up. He’s late, of course, as is his habit. A former client once told him, “There’s a minute, and then there’s a Rusty Hardin minute.” I’m just glad to have scotch in hand at the end of a long day. And the complimentary nuts in this place are downright addictive.
Besides, I know Hardin has his hands full. A Houston attorney with a specialty in defending pro athletes, he’s represented such jocks on the rocks as Scottie Pippen, Wade Boggs, Calvin Murphy and Warren Moon — and won their cases, often before the jury broke for lunch. His relentless cross-examination of former Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith, who sought part of the $1.6 billion estate of her deceased husband, J. Howard Marshall II, was the stuff of legal legend and made Hardin a celebrity in his own right. His juries don’t just find in his favor — they want to take him home for dinner.
Currently, he’s representing Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who’s charged with six counts of lying to Congress, a federal case stemming from his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs during his Major League Baseball career. The case originally went to trial in July 2011, but Judge Reggie B. Walton granted Hardin’s motion for a mistrial after the prosecutor introduced toxic hearsay testimony. Walton later ordered a retrial to begin in April 2012, rejecting a defense argument that a retrial would violate the double-jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Hardin has been accused of being something of a media hound, but he simply charms the media like he charms his juries: by mixing a genuine Southern gentility with a passionate advocacy for what he believes to be worthy causes. In the Clemens case, however, he has taken a beating from the press. Sportswriters and bloggers have chastised him for allowing Clemens to testify before Congress in 2008 and arrogantly proclaim his innocence. Clemens would’ve been better served, the argument goes, if he had just copped to his supposed steroidal sins and asked forgiveness like other ballplayers caught up in the steroids scandal (ex-teammate Andy Pettitte, for one). This reasoning ignores the possibility that Clemens might be innocent, of course, but that’s one of the occasional work hazards a high-profile defense attorney must endure in a case that regularly generates national headlines.