Judge says Giuliani is responsible for defaming Georgia election workers

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Rudolph W. Giuliani was responsible for defaming two Georgia election workers by repeatedly saying they mishandled ballots while counting votes in Atlanta during the 2020 election.

The ruling by Judge Beryl A. Howell in Federal District Court in Washington means that the defamation case against Mr. Giuliani, a central figure in former President Donald J. Trump's efforts to stay in power after his election defeat, can proceed the narrow question of how much damages he may have to pay to the plaintiffs in this case.

Judge Howell's decision came a little more than a month after Mr. Giuliani admitted on two counts that he had made false statements when he accused poll workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss of tampering with ballots while working at the State Farm Arena have for the Fulton County Board of Elections.

Mr. Giuliani's legal team has sought to make clear that he did not admit any wrongdoing and that his terms were simply intended to shorten the costly process of producing documents and other records to Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss so that he could turn to them flatly rejected the allegations.

Although the provisions essentially acknowledged that his statements about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were false, Mr. Giuliani continued to argue that his attacks on them were protected by the First Amendment.

But Judge Howell, complaining that Mr. Giuliani's terms had “more loopholes than Swiss cheese,” took the proactive step of declaring him liable for “defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and punitive damages.”

In a statement, Ted Goodman, Mr. Giuliani's political adviser, criticized the statement as “a prime example of the weaponization of our justice system, where trial is punishment.” He added that “this decision should be reversed as Mayor Giuliani is being wrongly accused of failing to preserve electronic evidence.”

Judge Howell's decision to skip fact discovery in the defamation case and proceed directly to assessing damages came after a protracted battle by Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss to compel Mr. Giuliani to turn over evidence that they believed deserved to be part of the discovery process .

In her ruling, Judge Howell accused Mr. Giuliani of paying “lip service” to his disclosure obligations “by failing to take reasonable steps to preserve or produce reams of relevant information.” His repeated excuses and attempts to portray himself as a victim in the case “thwarted” the two women's “procedural right to receive any meaningful discovery,” the judge continued.

“Putting on a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage for certain audiences, but in court that appearance has only served to undermine the normal process of discovery in a simple defamation case,” Judge Howell wrote.

The remedy for all this, she added, is that Mr. Giuliani would have to pay nearly $90,000 in legal fees incurred by Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss and that he would suffer a default judgment on the central issue of whether he should defamed women.

The lawsuit, filed by Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss in December 2021, was among the first filed by individual election officials who faced criticism and conspiracy theories spread by right-wing politicians and media figures who claimed Mr. Trump had done so won the election. The two women sued other defendants, including the One America News Network and some of its top officials, but ultimately reached settlements with all but Mr. Giuliani.

The harassment campaign against Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss began after Mr. Giuliani and others falsely accused them of pulling thousands of fraudulent ballots from a suitcase at their vote-counting station and illegally running them through voting machines. The story of that campaign was featured prominently in a racketeering indictment against Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and 17 others filed this month by the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia.

The indictment accuses Mr. Giuliani of falsely telling state officials in Georgia that Ms. Freeman had committed election crimes to persuade them to “unlawfully change the outcome of the race” on Mr. Trump's behalf. Other members of the criminal enterprise, the indictment says, “traveled from out of state to harass Ms. Freeman, intimidate her and induce her to falsely confess to election crimes she did not commit.”

Last year, Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss — mother and daughter — appeared as witnesses at a public hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 6 and recounted what happened after Mr. Giuliani amplified false claims about them.

Although Fulton County and Georgia officials immediately debunked the allegations, Mr. Giuliani continued to make them, eventually comparing the women – who are black – to drug dealers and calling for their homes to be searched during a hearing with Georgia state lawmakers.

Mr. Trump invoked Ms. Freeman's name 18 times during a telephone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2, 2021. In the call, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Raffensperger to help him “find” 11,800 votes. — enough to swing the Georgia results away from winner Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I have lost my name and my reputation,” Ms. Freeman told the House panel, adding, her voice rising with emotion, “Do you know what it feels like when the president of the United States is targeted?” You?”

Mr. Giuliani has blamed his own financial problems for his failure to provide documents to Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss. Mr. Giuliani has racked up about $3 million in legal costs through a series of civil and criminal cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.

He has demanded a lifeline from Mr. Trump, but the former president has largely rejected requests to cover Mr. Giuliani's legal fees. Although Mr. Trump's political action committee paid $340,000 that Mr. Giuliani owed to a company that had helped him prepare documents in various cases, he had still tried to agree to hand over documents to Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss avoid what led to the judge's decision on Wednesday.

The women's defamation lawsuit is just one of several legal problems facing Mr. Giuliani.

In addition to the Georgia lawsuit, Mr. Giuliani faces a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which accuses him of “a viral disinformation campaign” to spread false claims that the company was part of a complex conspiracy to poach votes from Mr. Giuliani. Trump during the 2020 election.

Last month, a legal ethics commission in Washington said Mr. Giuliani should be expelled for his “unprecedented” attempts to help Mr. Trump overturn the election.

He was also included as an unnamed co-conspirator in a federal indictment filed this month against Mr. Trump by special counsel Jack Smith, accusing the former president of plotting to illegally overturn the election results.