A jury on Friday awarded $148 million in damages to two former Georgia poll workers who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation over lies he told about them in 2020 and the lives he upended through racist threats and harassment turned upside down.
Issued on: December 16, 2023 – 11:33 a.mModified: 12/16/2023 – 11:39
The damages verdict follows emotional testimony from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who tearfully described being the target of a false conspiracy theory pushed by Giuliani and other Republicans as they sought to impeach then-President Keeping Donald Trump in power after he took office is what lost the 2020 election.
There was an audible gasp in the courtroom as the jury foreman read the women's $75 million in punitive damages. Moss and Freeman were each awarded an additional approximately $36 million in damages.
“Money will never solve all my problems,” Freeman told reporters outside federal court in Washington after the verdict. “I can never move back to the house I call home.” I will always have to be careful where I go and who I share my name with. I miss my home. I miss my neighbors and I miss my name.”
Giuliani appeared to show no emotion as the verdict was announced after about 10 hours of deliberations. Moss and Freeman hugged their lawyers after the jury left the courtroom and did not look at Giuliani as he left with his lawyer.
The former New York City mayor vowed to appeal, telling reporters that “the absurdity of the number merely underscores the absurdity of the entire process.”
“It's going to turn around so quickly it'll make your head spin, and the absurd number that just came in will actually help with that,” he said.
It is unclear whether Giuliani will ever be able to pay the staggering sum. He had already shown signs of financial strain as he battled costly lawsuits and investigations stemming from his portrayal of Trump. In September, his former lawyer sued him, saying Giuliani had paid only a fraction of the nearly $1.6 million in legal fees he had racked up.
His lawyer in the defamation case told jurors that the damages the women were seeking “would mean the end of Mr. Giuliani.”
Giuliani had already been held liable in the case and had previously admitted in court documents that he had falsely accused the women of election fraud. Still, the former mayor continued to repeat his baseless allegations about the women in comments to reporters outside the Washington, D.C., courthouse this week.
Giuliani's lawyer acknowledged that his client was wrong, but insisted that Giuliani was not entirely responsible for the viciousness the women faced. The defense sought to place much of the blame on a right-wing website that published surveillance video of the two women counting ballots.
Giuliani's defense rested Thursday morning without calling a single witness after the former mayor changed course and decided not to take the stand. Giuliani's lawyer told jurors in his opening statement that they would hear from his client. But after Giuliani's comments outside court, the judge barred him from saying his conspiracy theories were correct.
The ruling increases financial and legal danger for Giuliani, who was among the loudest supporters of Trump's false claims of election fraud, now a central part of the criminal case against the former president.
Giuliani still faces his biggest test yet: fighting criminal charges in the Georgia case that accuse Trump and 18 others of working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which Democrat Joe Biden won in that state undermine. Giuliani pleaded not guilty and called the case politically motivated.
Jurors in the defamation case heard recordings of Giuliani falsely accusing election workers of planting ballots in suitcases, counting ballots multiple times and tampering with voting machines. Trump also repeated the conspiracy theories through his social media accounts. Lawyers for Moss and Freeman, who are Black, also played jurors audio recordings of the graphic and racist threats the women received.
On the witness stand, Moss and Freeman described fearing for their lives as hateful messages arrived. Freeman described strangers knocking on her door and recounted how she fled her home after people came with megaphones and the FBI told her she wasn't safe. Moss told jurors she tried to change her appearance, rarely left her home and suffered from panic attacks.
“Our greatest wish is that no one, no poll worker, no voter, no school board member or anyone else ever experiences anything like what we went through,” Moss told reporters after the verdict. “You all matter and you all matter.”
Defense attorney Joseph Sibley had told jurors to compensate the women for what they deserve, but he urged them to “remember that this is a great man.”
A lawyer for Moss and Freeman stressed in his closing argument that Giuliani has not stopped repeating the false conspiracy theory that workers interfered in the November 2020 presidential election. Attorney Michael Gottlieb played a video of Giuliani outside the courthouse on Monday in which Giuliani falsely claimed that the women were “involved in changing votes.” Giuliani continued to make false election claims after the ruling, telling reporters: “I know that a president was forced upon my country through fraud.”
“Mr. “Giuliani has shown time and time again that he won't take the names of our customers out of his mouth,” Gottlieb said. “Facts won't stop him. He says he's not sorry and he telegraphs that he still is will do one day. Believe him.”
The judge overseeing the election workers' lawsuit had already ordered Giuliani and his companies to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. In holding Giuliani liable, the judge ruled that the former mayor had “only paid lip service” to complying with his legal obligations while attempting to portray himself as a victim in the case.