Defamation | Political Speech

Jurors Seated in Election Workers’ Defamation Case Against Rudy Giuliani

Outside of the Fulton County Jail following the indictment of former U.S. President Trump
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani gets out of his car to speak to reporters outside the Fulton County Jail after surrendering to face state charges arising from actions he is accused of taking to overturn former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 23, 2023. (Reuters/Dustin Chambers)

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for two Georgia election workers played audio recordings in a Washington courtroom Monday of graphic and racist threats the two women received after Rudy Giuliani falsely accused them of fraud while pushing Donald Trump’s baseless claims after the 2020 election.

The recordings were part of the opening statements in a federal case that will determine how much Giuliani might have to pay the women.

The former New York City mayor has already been found liable in the defamation lawsuit brought by Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, who endured threats and harassment after they became the target of a conspiracy theory spread by Trump and his allies. The only issue to be determined at the trial is the amount of damages, if any, Giuliani must pay.

The women’s lawyers estimated that reputational damages could reach $47 million, and suggested emotional and punitive damages on top of that could be “tens of millions.”

Giuliani’s lawyer said any award should be much less.

The recordings played by the lawyers Monday included threats accusing the women of treason and threatening to hang them.

The women got hundreds of similar calls, text messages and emails, said attorney Von DuBose. People also showed up at Freeman’s home to pound on her door and at her mother’s house to make “citizen’s arrests,” DuBose said.

“Mr. Giuliani and his co-conspirators stole the lives Ms. Moss and Ms. Freeman by destroying their names,” DuBose said.

Freeman and Moss’s lawyers also played recordings of Giuliani falsely accusing them of sneaking in ballots in suitcases, counting ballots multiple times and tampering with voting machines.

“None of that – none of that – was true,” DuBose said.

Trump also repeated the conspiracy theories through his social media accounts, something attorney Michael Gottlieb called “the most powerful amplifier on earth.”

The then-president also assailed Freeman and Moss in his speech on Jan. 6, 2021, around the same time people with flags and bullhorns came to Freeman’s home. She wasn’t there, however, because she had fled after the FBI had told her it wasn’t safe. She eventually had to sell her house of 20 years, DuBose said.

Gottlieb asked the jury to award substantial damages to send a message that “In the United States of America, behavior like Rudy Giuliani’s is not the inevitable result of politics. It is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated.”

Giuliani’s attorney, Joseph Sibley, said Freeman and Moss are “good people” who didn’t deserve the treatment they received. But he argued there was little evidence Giuliani was directly responsible for the threats and harassment directed their way, and the former mayor never encouraged it.

“This is something other people did independent of Mr. Giuliani,” Sibley said. He argued that the amount of money they want in damages is the “civil equivalent of the death penalty.”

He said he would ask the jury to award an amount they believe is fair, but at a much lower level.

Giuliani did not speak to reporters as he entered Washington’s federal courthouse — the same building where Trump is to stand trial in March on criminal charges accusing the former president of scheming to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden.

Giuliani is expected to take the witness stand in his own case, his lawyer said Monday, raising questions about whether his testimony could also put him in jeopardy in a separate criminal case in Georgia that accuses Trump, Giuliani and others of trying to illegally overturn the results of the election in the state.

The legal and financial woes are mounting for Giuliani, who was celebrated as “America’s mayor” in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack and became one of the most ardent promoters of Trump’s election lies.

In the Georgia criminal case, Giuliani is accused of making false statements to lawmakers during hearings in December 2020. While showing a surveillance video from State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where ballots were counted in the days after the election, Giuliani said election workers committed election fraud. Specifically, he said, Freeman and Moss were “quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine” and it was obvious they were “engaged in surreptitious illegal activity.”

The claims about the election workers were quickly debunked by Georgia officials, who found no improper counting of ballots.

Giuliani conceded in July that he made public comments falsely claiming Freeman and Moss committed fraud while counting ballots. But Giuliani argued that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case and maintains he had every right to raise questions about what he believed to be election fraud.

He was also sued in September by a former lawyer who alleged Giuliani only paid a fraction of roughly $1.6 million in legal fees stemming from investigations into his efforts to keep Trump in the White House. And the judge overseeing the election workers’ lawsuit has already ordered Giuliani and his business entities to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Overseeing the defamation case is District Judge Beryl Howell, who is well-versed in handling matters related to Trump, having served as chief judge of Washington’s federal court for the entirety of Trump’s presidency.

Howell, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, asked prospective jurors Monday was: “Have you ever used the phrase ‘Lets Go Brandon?’” The phrase is used in right-wing circles to insult Biden.

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.

In emotional testimony before the U.S. House Committee that investigated the U.S. Capitol attack, Moss recounted receiving threatening and racist messages.

In an August decision holding Giuliani liable in the case, Howell said the Trump adviser gave “only lip service” to complying with his legal obligations and had failed to turn over information requested by the mother and daughter. The judge in October said that Giuliani had flagrantly disregarded an order to provide documents concerning his personal and business assets. She said that jurors deciding the amount of damages would be told they must infer that Giuliani was intentionally trying to hide financial documents in the hopes of “artificially deflating his net worth.”