Rudy Giuliani Ordered to Pay $148 Million to the Election Workers He Defamed

Ill-advised legal tactics and a lack of contrition made the situation worse for Trump’s ex-lawyer.

Rudy Giuliani arrives at federal court in Washington on Dec. 15.Jim Lo Scalzo/Zuma

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On Friday, a jury unanimously ordered Rudy Giuliani to pay $148 million in compensatory and punitive damages to two Georgia election workers he defamed. The judgment furthers the incredible downfall of a guy once known as “America’s mayor” and likely will cement his financial ruin.

Giuliani’s defamation trial was never going to be good for him. But the former New York mayor made it worse through seemingly arrogant and flat-out stupid conduct that irked the judge and did him no favors with jurors.

In December 2020, Giuliani, working to boost Donald Trump’s effort to use lies about election fraud to retain power, claimed that a misleadingly cropped video showed Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, pulling “suitcases” of “illegal” ballots from under a table at a Fulton County Georgia vote-counting center. He also claimed the two Black women were surreptitiously passing around “USB ports” like “vials of heroin or cocaine.” Moss told the January 6 committee last year she and Freeman were actually exchanging a ginger mint. 

“These people should all go to jail,” Giuliani said in the Dec. 4 video. “For a long time.”

Giuliani kept accusing the women of election fraud, including in public testimony, after the office of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State had already investigated and debunked those claims. (He also faces criminal charges related to his efforts to help Trump concoct phony election fraud claims in Georgia.) Giuliani’s lies resulted in extensive and racist harassment of Freeman and Moss, including death threats, they later testified.

Sued by Moss and Freeman, Giuliani tried to sidestep the discovery process. He admitted in July that his claims about Freeman and Moss were “defamatory” and “false.” Giuliani claimed his admission was “for the purposes of this litigation only.” But District Court Judge Beryl Howell cited it in a default ruling that Giuliani was liable for the “defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and punitive damage” claims Freeman and Moss raised. That meant his trial was held only to determine damages.

Giuliani arrived 20 minutes late for the first day of trial, tardiness his lawyer attributed to a long courthouse security line. Later that day, Giuliani told reporters outside the courthouse that he didn’t regret his statements. “I told the truth,” he said. “They were engaged in changing votes.” He said he would testify and provide proof that “everything I said about them is true.”

“Stay tuned because they have no idea what we’re going to hit them with,” Giuliani said on his social media show that night. “No idea. You’ll see. We’ve been working on it for some time. It’s all prepared. Time to take the gloves off…We don’t play Tiddlywinks.”

Giuliani’s boasts could open him up to more damages. The next morning, Howell, without jurors present, noted he had already passed up the chance to argue his claims were accurate. She said Giuliani’s statements were “again negative and quite defamatory.”

Despite his tough talk outside the courtroom, Giuliani chose not to testify in the case.

His lawyer, Joseph Sibley later argued that awarding Moss and Freeman tens of millions would amount to a “death sentence” and prove “catastrophic” for his client.

Sibley asked jurors to remember Giuliani’s reputation when he served as mayor of New York City and as a federal prosecutor. “Rudy Giuliani shouldn’t be defined by what’s happened in recent times,” Mr. Sibley said. “This is a man who did great things.”

Michael Gottlieb, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, suggested in his closing argument that Giuliani’s arguments were elitist. “Day after day, Mr. Giuliani reminds you who he is,” Gottlieb said. “Rich famous people have valuable reputations, and ordinary people are irrelevant, replaceable, worthless… Mr. Giuliani’s defense is his reputation, his comfort, and his goals are more important than those of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. That is a fiction, and it ends today.”

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