Former New York Mayor Giuliani found liable in election defamation case

Two election workers in Georgia have said Giuliani falsely accused them of fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

Onlookers and reporters point cellphones and microphones at Rudy Giuliani as he leaves a US district court.
Rudy Giuliani leaves a US District Court on May 19 after attending a hearing in a defamation suit brought by two Georgia election workers [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

A federal judge in the United States has held former Mayor Rudy Giuliani liable in a defamation lawsuit brought by two Georgia election workers who say they were falsely accused of fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that the former New York City mayor gave “only lip service” to comply with his legal obligations while trying to portray himself as the victim in the case.

Giuliani, Howell said, had ignored his duty as a defendant to turn over information requested by election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea ArShaye Moss, as part of their lawsuit.

The decision moves the case towards a trial in Washington that could result in Giuliani being ordered to pay significant damages, in addition to the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees he is already being directed to pay.

Freeman and Moss filed their complaint in December 2021, accusing Giuliani of defaming them by falsely stating that they had engaged in fraud while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Giuliani, one of former President Donald Trump’s lawyers and confidants, had been an outspoken supporter of the false claim that Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election was the result of “rigged” votes.

Wandrea "Shaye" Moss covers her mouth with her hand as she starts to get emotional during her testimony, with her mother Ruby Freeman sitting behind her in support.
Georgia election workers Wandrea ArShaye Moss, left, and Ruby Freeman attend a committee hearing in Congress on June 21, 2022, to testify about their experiences during the 2020 presidential election [File: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Reuters]

In a statement on Wednesday, the women said they had endured a “living nightmare” and an unimaginable “wave of hatred and threats” because of Giuliani’s comments.

“Nothing can restore all we lost, but today’s ruling is yet another neutral finding that has confirmed what we have known all along: that there was never any truth to any of the accusations about us and that we did nothing wrong,” they said.

“We were smeared for purely political reasons, and the people responsible can and should be held accountable.”

The ruling compounds the legal jeopardy Giuliani faces, at a time when he and Trump are among the 19 defendants charged in a state racketeering case related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

It also creates the potential for a massive financial penalty as the case proceeds to a federal trial in Washington, where a jury will determine any damages Giuliani may be liable for.

Judge Howell said Giuliani would have a “final opportunity” to produce the requested information, as part of a legal process called “discovery”, but could face additional sanctions if he fails to do so.

In the meantime, Howell said, Giuliani and his business entities must pay more than $130,000 in lawyers’ fees.

Howell expressed scepticism at Giuliani’s claims that he cannot afford to reimburse the plaintiffs in the case, noting that he recently listed his apartment in Manhattan for $6.5m and was reported to have flown in a private plane to Atlanta to surrender to charges there. He has pleaded not guilty.

“Donning a cloak of victimisation may play well on a public stage to certain audiences, but in a court of law, this performance has served only to subvert the normal process of discovery in a straightforward defamation case, with the concomitant necessity of repeated court intervention,” Howell wrote.

Howell said that aside from an initial document production of 193 pages, the information Giuliani had turned over consisted largely of “a single page of communications, blobs of indecipherable data” and “a sliver of the financial documents required to be produced”.

“Perhaps he has made the calculation that his overall litigation risks are minimised by not complying with his discovery obligations in this case,” Howell said. “Whatever the reason, obligations are case-specific and withholding required discovery in this case has consequences.”

The judge said, “Giuliani has given only lip service to compliance with his discovery obligations.”

Giuliani has blamed his failure to produce the requested documents on the fact that his devices were seized by federal investigators in 2021, as a part of a separate justice department investigation that did not produce any criminal charges.

Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, said in a statement that the judge’s ruling “is a prime example of the weaponisation of our justice system, where the process is the punishment. This decision should be reversed, as Mayor Giuliani is wrongly accused of not preserving electronic evidence that was seized and held by the FBI.”

Last month, Giuliani conceded that he made public comments falsely claiming the election workers committed ballot fraud during the 2020 election, but he contended that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.

President Joe Biden leans over to speak to Ruby Freeman, as her daughter applauds behind them. In the background are two US flags.
US President Joe Biden offers a Presidential Citizens Medal to Ruby Freeman on January 6, 2023, as her daughter looks on [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

That caveated stipulation, Howell said, has “more holes than Swiss cheese”. She suggested Giuliani was more interested in conceding the workers’ claims than actually producing meaningful discovery in the case.

“Yet, just as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks, even potential criminal liability, bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions, no matter what reservations a noncompliant party may try artificially to preserve for appeal,” Howell said.

Moss had worked for the Fulton County elections department since 2012 and supervised the absentee ballot operation during the 2020 election. Freeman was a temporary election worker, verifying signatures on absentee ballots and preparing them to be counted and processed.

Giuliani and others alleged during a Georgia legislative subcommittee hearing in December 2020 that surveillance video from State Farm Arena showed the election workers committing election fraud.

As those allegations circulated online, the two women said, they suffered intense harassment, both in person and online. Moss detailed her experiences in emotional testimony before the members of Congress investigating the Capitol insurrection. The January 6 committee also played video testimony from Freeman during the hearing in June 2022.

Source: The Associated Press