Giuliani lawyer says Georgia election workers' claim for damages amounts to 'death penalty'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for two Georgia election officials 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 when he hit Donald Trump after the 2020 election Trump's unsubstantiated claims.

The recordings were part of opening arguments in a federal case that will determine how much Giuliani may 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 becoming the target of a conspiracy theory promoted by Trump and his allies. The only question to be resolved in the trial is the amount of damages Giuliani may have to pay.

The women's lawyers estimated that reputational damage could be as high as $47 million, and suggested that emotional and punitive damages beyond that could run into “tens of millions.”

Giuliani's lawyer said the compensation should be significantly less.

Open image modallyFormer New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington on December 11, 2023. The trial will determine how much Giuliani must pay two Georgia election workers he falsely accused of fraud while pushing President Donald Trump's baseless claims after he lost the 2020 election.

Jose Luis Magana via Associated Press

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

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

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

Lawyers for Freeman and Moss also played recordings of Giuliani in which he falsely accused them of secretly planting ballots in suitcases, counting ballots multiple times and tampering with voting machines.

“None of it — none of it — was true,” DuBose said.

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

The then-President also attacked Freeman and Moss in his speech on January 6, 2021, around the same time that people came to Freeman's home with flags and megaphones. However, she wasn't there because she fled after the FBI told her it wasn't safe. She eventually had to sell her home, where she had lived for 20 years, DuBose said.

Gottlieb urged the jury to award significant damages to send a message: “In the United States of America, behavior like Rudy Giuliani's is not the inevitable result of politics. That is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Giuliani's attorney, Joseph Sibley, said Freeman and Moss were “good people” who did not deserve the treatment they received. But he argued that there was little evidence that Giuliani was directly responsible for the threats and harassment directed at her and that the former mayor never encouraged it.

“Other people have done this independently of Mr. Giuliani,” Sibley said. He argued that the amount they are seeking in damages is the “civil law equivalent of the death penalty.”

He said he would ask the jury to award an amount they thought was appropriate, but at a much lower standard.

Giuliani did not speak to reporters as he entered the federal courthouse in Washington – the same building where Trump is scheduled to stand trial in March on criminal charges that accuse the former president of plotting to reverse his loss to President Joe Biden .

Giuliani is expected to appear as a witness in his own case, his lawyer said on Monday, raising questions about whether his testimony could also jeopardize him in a separate criminal trial in Georgia in which Trump, Giuliani and others are accused of attempting to do so to have the law illegally overturning election results in the state.

The legal and financial problems are mounting for Giuliani, who was hailed as “America's mayor” after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and became one of the most ardent supporters 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 surveillance video from State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where ballots were being counted in the days after the election, Giuliani said election workers committed election fraud. Specifically, he said that Freeman and Moss were “clearly secretly passing around USB ports as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine” and it was obvious that they were “engaged in clandestine illegal activities.”

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

Giuliani acknowledged in July that he falsely claimed in public comments that Freeman and Moss had committed fraud in counting ballots. However, Giuliani argued that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case, claiming he has every right to ask questions about what he believes is election fraud.

He was also sued in September by a former lawyer who claimed Giuliani paid only a fraction of about $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 companies to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Overseeing the defamation case will be District Judge Beryl Howell, who is well-versed in Trump-related matters and served as chief judge of the federal court in Washington throughout Trump's presidency.

Howell, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, asked potential jurors on Monday: “Have you ever used the phrase 'Let's Go Brandon?'” The phrase is used in right-wing circles to insult Biden.

Moss worked for the Fulton County Elections Department since 2012 and oversaw absentee voting during the 2020 election. Freeman was a temporary poll worker who verified signatures on absentee ballots and prepared them for counting and processing.

In emotional testimony before the U.S. House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Moss said he received threatening and racist messages.

In an August ruling holding Giuliani liable in the case, Howell said the Trump adviser paid “only lip service” to complying with his legal obligations and failed to share information requested by the mother and daughter. The judge said in October that Giuliani had blatantly ignored an order to release documents about his personal and business assets. She said jurors deciding the amount of damages will be told they must conclude that Giuliani intentionally tried to hide financial documents in hopes of “artificially reducing his net worth.”

Price reported from New York. AP video journalist Nathan Ellgren in Washington and AP reporters Eric Tucker in Washington, Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed.

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