Giuliani ordered to pay $148M for spreading lies about Georgia election workers

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Giuliani ordered to pay $148M for spreading lies about Georgia election workerseading element

A jury handed down the whopping judgment in favor of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who were besieged by harassment after Rudy Giuliani falsely accused them of ballot fraud.

Quick Rudi Giuliani recap

Quick recap

Rudy Giuliani must pay $148 million in damages to two former Georgia election workers whose lives were upended after the former New York City mayor falsely accused them of manipulating ballots in 2020, a federal jury determined Friday.

The eight-member panel awarded Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss about $16 million apiece for claims that Giuliani defamed them, as well as $20 million apiece for the emotional distress they experienced after Giuliani’s allegations were followed by a deluge of threats, harassment and professional consequences.

The jury of Washington, D.C., residents also determined that Giuliani must pay $75 million in “punitive” damages, a penalty intended to deter him and others from engaging in similar smear campaigns in the future.

The verdict was announced late Friday afternoon, after about 10 hours of deliberations following an unusual four-day trial in which the jury’s only task was to make damage awards, since U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell had already ruled Giuliani liable due to his failure to comply with her earlier orders to turn over evidence related to the case.

It’s unclear how much of the massive judgment — if any — Freeman and Moss will ever receive.

Giuliani, 79, is reportedly in dire financial straits, and he has at times turned to Donald Trump’s political action committee for help paying his legal bills. The judge found that he shielded evidence of his net worth, and lawyers for Freeman and Moss even alluded during their closing arguments to the prospect that Giuliani would not be able to pay any judgment.

Early in the trial, Giuliani’s lawyer said a damages award in the tens of millions of dollars would be the “civil equivalent of the death penalty.”

Giuliani, who was ordered by Howell to attend the trial, casually jotted notes with a stylus on an electronic tablet as the verdict was read by the jury foreperson.

A few minutes later, Giuliani stood outside the courthouse and declared, “I don’t regret a damn thing.”

The former mayor and federal prosecutor called the monetary award “absurd” and said he would appeal. He denied responsibility for the threats and harassment that Freeman and Moss received — including a bevy of unambiguously racist, violent messages — and said that he receives “comments like that every day.”

Both of the election workers seemed amazed by the verdict, with Freeman spinning around her chair and Moss fanning herself as the multimillion awards were announced. Once court recessed, they embraced their lawyers, with Moss saying to one: “I love you.”

The verdict followed a four-day trial featuring live and recorded witnesses, including powerful and emotional in-person testimony from Freeman and Moss themselves.

Their lawyers had urged the jury to award the women $24 million apiece for Giuliani’s defamation and unspecified additional amounts for infliction of emotional distress over the claims, which they say ignited years of threats and devastated their mental health. They also asked for an unstated sum in punitive damages to deter others from outrageous conduct.

At the time of the initial allegations against Freeman and Moss, fueled by a grainy surveillance video of ballot counting at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena on Election Day 2020, Giuliani was serving as the head of then-President Trump’s legal defense team. Trump later amplified Giuliani’s lies about the two women.

Trump has never been a defendant in the suit, but the judge ruled that, under a theory of civil conspiracy, Giuliani was liable for Trump’s statements about the election workers.

During arguments to the jury Thursday, an attorney for Freeman and Moss left no doubt that the pair consider the falsehoods promulgated about them to be part of a strategic plan by the Trump campaign aimed at trying to keep Trump in office.

He had no right to offer defenseless civil servants up to a virtual mob in order to overturn an election,” a lawyer for the women, Michael Gottlieb, said of Giuliani. “The cost that has [been] imposed on Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, on all those he has deceived, and to the public confidence in our democracy are incalculable.”

In her testimony, Freeman made clear she also blamed the former president — whom she refused to name and simply called “45” — for propagating lies about her and her daughter.

“Today’s a good day. A jury stood witness to what Rudy Giuliani did to me and my daughter — and held him accountable,” Freeman told reporters after the verdict was delivered. “We still have work to do. Rudy Giuliani was not the only one who spread lies about us, and others must be held accountable, too,” she said, without elaborating.

The lawsuit against Giuliani, filed in December 2021, has been backed by Protect Democracy, a group aimed at combating what it sees as authoritarian threats to American democracy.

As the case unfolded, Giuliani often seemed to be at odds with his attorney, Joseph Sibley. Giuliani told reporters Wednesday night he intended to testify as Sibley promised jurors earlier in the week, but Giuliani never took the stand.

Sibley told jurors the decision was aimed at sparing Freeman and Moss — whose emotional testimony this week he described as genuine and credible — further trauma.

“These women have been through enough,” Sibley said in his remarkable closing statement, calling his own client “irresponsible” for stoking false claims against Freeman and Moss without conducting an investigation.

But after the verdict on Friday, Giuliani offered a different reason for declining to take the stand: “I believe the judge was threatening me with the strong possibility that I’d be held in contempt or that I’d even be put in jail,” he said.

Giuliani didn’t repeat his false claims about Freeman and Moss Friday, but continued to air false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “My country had a president imposed on it by fraud,” he declared.

Sibley left the courthouse by another door shortly after the verdict and was not at his client’s side as he spoke to reporters.

Giuliani’s decision not to testify seemed to reduce further his stature at a trial where he already seemed far diminished from the role he played when he came to prominence in the 1980s as a swashbuckling U.S. attorney in Manhattan and later as mayor during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Still, Giuliani’s decision not to take the stand seemed to reduce further his stature at a trial where he already seemed far diminished from the role he played when he came to prominence in the 1980s as a swashbuckling U.S. attorney in Manhattan and later as mayor during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sibley also sought to build sympathy for his client by suggesting at times that he’s not as sharp as he was earlier in his career.

“Rudy Giuliani’s a good man,” Sibley told the jury. “He hasn’t exactly helped himself with some of the things that have happened in the last few days. … My client, he’s almost 80 years old.”

Sibley’s central argument to the jury was that it shouldn’t get carried away when assessing damages. He said the plaintiffs were seeking a “catastrophic … Hollywood-type” award.

Earlier in the trial, Sibley bristled at the limits he faced in trying to mount a defense for Giuliani at a trial where the most critical issues had already been decided against him.

“We just have to roll over and get kicked?” Sibley complained Tuesday.

Howell acknowledged that the defense lawyer’s latitude to challenge the plaintiffs’ case was sharply constrained, but said that was a result of Giuliani’s prior defiance in the case.

“It’s sort of unchartered territory,” she said to Sibley. “You’ve got a difficult job.”

This article was originally published by “POLITICO””