A federal judge has determined Rudy Giuliani forfeits the defamation lawsuit from two Georgia election workers against him, a decision that could lead to significant penalties for the former Donald Trump attorney.
In court in recent weeks, Giuliani said he could no longer contest that he made false and defamatory statements about Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss – who are only one group of plaintiffs suing him for defamation related to his work for Trump after the 2020 election.
Giuliani said he struggled to maintain his own access to his electronic records – partly because of the cost – and didn’t adequately respond to subpoenas for information from Moss and Freeman as the case moved forward.
“Perhaps he has made the calculation that his overall litigation risks are minimized by not complying with his discovery obligations in this case,” Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court in Washington, DC, wrote Wednesday. “Whatever the reason, obligations are case specific and withholding required discovery in this case has consequences.”
The judge, in ruling Wednesday against Giuliani, noted that the election workers could try to show his false claims about the 2020 election were intended, in some part, to enrich himself, an argument that may come up at the damages trial. Moss and Freeman are asking for unspecified damages after they say they suffered emotional and reputational harm, as well as having their safety put in danger, after Giuliani singled them out when he made false claims of ballot tampering in Georgia after the 2020 election.
A trial to determine the amount of damages for which Giuliani will be held liable will be set for later this year or early 2024, Howell said on Wednesday.
The damages could amount to thousands if not millions of dollars.
Giuliani has already been sanctioned almost $90,000 for Freeman and Moss’ attorneys’ fees in the case, and Howell says the former New York mayor may be saddled with additional similar sanctions.
Giuliani has been struggling financially, buried under 2020 election legal proceedings, a new criminal case against him in Georgia related to efforts to overturn the election and other matters. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges in Georgia and has been released from jail on bond.
In a statement, Moss and Freeman expressed gratitude for Howell’s ruling.
“What we went through after the 2020 election was a living nightmare,” the pair said. “Rudy Giuliani helped unleash a wave of hatred and threats we never could have imagined. It cost us our sense of security and our freedom to go about our lives. 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.”
The pair concluded, “The fight to rebuild our reputations and to repair the damage to our lives is not over.”
Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, said in a statement that Howell’s decision was “a prime example of the weaponization of our justice system, where the process is the punishment.” Goodman added that Giuliani was “wrongly accused” of failing to preserve his own records and that he wanted Howell’s decision to be reversed.
Giuliani had only turned over fewer than 200 relevant documents, a single page of communications, a few legal responses, a “sliver” of needed financial documents and “blobs of indecipherable data,” Howell wrote.
Giuliani had claimed that the FBI seizure of his electronic devices years ago had complicated his ability to access his records and that he had struggled under pricey legal fees. But Howell said he could have taken steps at an earlier point to keep his records in case litigation arose in the future.
The judge also noted that while Giuliani complained to the court that he was buried in litigation costs, he was able to get Trump’s reimbursement for his electronic legal debts, listed his Manhattan co-op apartment for $6.5 million and traveled on a private plane to report to jail for processing in Fulton County, Georgia, last week.
Howell noted that Giuliani’s decades of experience as a lawyer, including as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, underscored his “lackluster preservation efforts.”
“Giuliani has submitted declarations with concessions turned slippery on scrutiny and excuses designed to shroud the insufficiency of his discovery compliance. The bottom line is that Giuliani has refused to comply with his discovery obligations and thwarted plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea’ ArShaye Moss’s procedural rights to obtain any meaningful discovery in this case,” Howell wrote in a 57-page opinion ruling.
“Donning a cloak of victimization 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.”
Late last month, Giuliani conceded that he made defamatory statements about Freeman and Moss – who are but one of several groups suing Giuliani for defamation related to his work for Trump after the 2020 election – and that he didn’t contest their accusations that he had smeared them after the 2020 election.
Giuliani’s statements about them, which Freeman and Moss say are false, included calling them ballot-stuffing criminal conspirators. Giuliani also drew attention to a video of them after the election, which was first posted by the Trump campaign and showed part of a security tape of ballot counting in Atlanta. On social media, his podcast and other broadcasts, Giuliani said the video showed suitcases filled with ballots, when it did not capture anything but normal ballot processing, according to the defamation lawsuit and a state investigation.
Georgia election officials have debunked Giuliani’s accusations of fraud during the ballot counting.
The mother-daughter duo has been candid about how their lives were impacted by Trump and Giuliani’s claims that they were guilty of election fraud.
“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman said last year in video testimony to the House select committee that investigated the events surrounding the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol.
Moss said her privacy was destroyed when she learned that Giuliani had accused her mother, Freeman, of passing some kind of USB drive to her like “vials of cocaine or heroin” as part of an elaborate vote-stealing scheme, she said. In reality, the object in question was a ginger mint. In his controversial call when he asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to find votes to help him overturn his 2020 loss, Trump attacked Moss 18 times, and the former president called Freeman a “professional vote scammer” and a “hustler.”
“I felt horrible. I felt like it was all my fault,” Moss said during her testimony last year. “I just felt like it was, it was my fault for putting my family in this situation.”
She added that she and her mother were afraid to go outside or to the supermarket after getting threats “wishing death upon me, telling me that, you know, I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like – ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.’”
During Giuliani’s disinformation campaign about the vote in Georgia, the FBI recommended Freeman leave her home for her own safety, according to the lawsuit.
This story has been updated with additional reporting and details.