Jury Awards Georgia Election Workers $148 Million in Damages Over Rudy Giuliani's 2020 Election Lies |  Chicago News

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington on Friday, December 15, 2023. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury on Friday awarded $148 million in damages to two former Georgia election officials who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation over lies he spread about them in 2020 that affected their lives racist threats and harassment had been turned on its head.

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.

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.

Giuliani told reporters outside federal court in Washington that he would appeal, saying the “absurdity of the number just 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.

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. Yet the former New York 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.

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 had already shown signs of financial strain as he battled costly lawsuits and investigations stemming from his portrayal of Trump. His lawyer suggested the defamation case could financially ruin the former mayor, saying: “It would be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

And 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. to 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.

The women's lawyers sought at least $24 million in defamation damages for each woman. They also sought compensation for their emotional harm and punitive damages.

On the witness stand, Moss and Freeman described fearing for their lives as hateful messages came in. Moss told jurors she tried to change her appearance, rarely left her home and suffered from panic attacks. Her mother described strangers knocking on her door and told how she fled her home after people came with megaphones and the FBI told her she wasn't safe.

“It's always so scary when I go somewhere when I have to use my name,” Freeman said, gasping through tears to get her words out. “I miss my old neighborhood because I was myself, I could introduce myself. Now I don’t actually have a name.”

Defense attorney Joseph Sibley urged jurors to compensate the women for what they deserve but 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 Monday in which Giuliani falsely claimed the women were “involved in changing votes.”

“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.