Rusty Hardin Rusty Hardin: A Living Legend in Law

by Marene Gustin

 

Rusty Hardin: A Living Legend in Law
by Marene Gustin

Rusty Hardin When you think of lions of Texas law, you think of Percy Foreman, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, Joe Jamail, John O’Quinn, Dick DeGuerin, and Russell Hardin. Not that anyone calls him that, he has always been just ol’ “Rusty” Hardin, an amiable everyman that clients clamor for and juries enthusiastically believe.
But Hardin didn’t start out a lawyer; he graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and taught history for a year before joining the army. During that five-year stint, Hardin spent 15 months in Vietnam. He then spent a year as a legislative assistant to Congressman Charles R. Jonas of North Carolina. Then it was on to law school and 15 years as an assistant district attorney for Harris County.

“The D.A. back then was Johnny Holmes, and I wasn’t going to run against him,” Hardin recalls. “So I decided I needed to go out on my own.” But that wasn’t exactly easy after having been a government employee for decades.
“I didn’t know how to rent an office,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know what to charge clients; I didn’t know squat!”

But he learned.

In 1991 he was a founding partner of Hardin, Beers, Hagstette, and Davidson. By 1994 he was named Chief Trial Counsel for the Whitewater Independent Counsel’s Office, serving under both Bob Fiske and Ken Starr. Two years later he opened Rusty Hardin & Associates, LLP, trying both criminal and civil cases.

“There aren’t many firms that do that,” Hardin says. “But in reality, the only real difference in criminal and civil cases is what happens in pretrial. Once you get in front of a jury, it’s very similar.”

Rusty HardinClients over the years have included Arthur Andersen (in both the criminal and civil cases), ExxonMobil, Rice University, the Houston Texans, a corporation established by J. Howard Marshall II in a probate trial involving the J. Howard Marshall II estate by Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall III as well as many famous athletes. And while he says, in reality, every case is important to the client, he does single out one case that made an impression on him: the federal case against former Astros and New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, who was accused of lying to Congress about steroid use. In 2012 Clemens was found not guilty on all six accounts of lying to Congress.
“There was just so much riding on that case,” he says. “I thought he was wrongly accused and I thought the negative media publicity was just unfair. I remember when the trial ended, and most everyone had left the courtroom Roger was just standing there hugging his sons, and they were all crying. That’s a great memory.”

Another case that Hardin handled that didn’t have the celebrity cachet of the Clemens’ case but has had a lasting impact on trials in Texas was that of Michael Morton. Morton was convicted of the 1986 murder of his wife and spent 25 years in jail. The case was fraught with misconduct, and in 2011 Morton was released from prison after the Innocence Project proved DNA tests linked another man to the murder. That man, Mark Alan Norwood, was later convicted of the crime.

“I was the attorney pro-tem,” Hardin says, “or special prosecutor for the judge in a court of inquiry that found that the prosecution withheld crucial information from the original defense team.” That prosecutor, Ken Anderson, withheld information including the statement of Morton’s 3-year-old son who said his father was not home at the time of the murder and other witnesses who claimed an unknown man is seen outside the house before the crime. The court of inquiry found Anderson in contempt of court, and he was stripped of his license to practice law. As an outcome of this, the state legislature passed the Michael Morton Act in 2013, which ensures a more open discovery process.
“The act has had a tremendous impact on Texas trials,” Hardin says. “It’s changed the nature of what the defendant has the nature to discover.

“Morton is one of the least bitter people I know. After 13 years behind bars, he forgave those who wrongly imprisoned him.”

Today Morton and his second wife live in rural East Texas, and he has been reunited with his son and now has three grandchildren.

And speaking of grandkids, Hardin has five of his own. He and his wife Tissy, who were married in 1970, have two sons: Russell is a history and government teacher at St. Johns and Thomas, is an HPD officer.
Today Hardin spends his time working and with his family. “The grandkids are absolutely adorable,” he says. “My free time is mostly about soccer games and school plays.”

He also enjoys what he calls beach reading (“I spend enough time reading serious stuff at work”) and frequents Murder By The Book buying up Michael Connelly crime novels as well as dining out with his family at Johnny Carrabba’s restaurants and the occasionally frozen margarita at El Tiempo.

As for retirement?

“No, no, no!” he exclaims. “I don’t think I’ll ever retire.