Rudy Giuliani liable for defaming Georgia election workers, hit with sanctions by judge

Rudy Giuliani speaks outside the Fulton County jail, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Atlanta.

Brynn Anderson | AP

A federal judge on Wednesday issued a default judgment against former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and ordered him to pay sanctions of nearly $133,000 in a defamation and civil conspiracy lawsuit by two Georgia election workers whom he claimed mishandled ballots in the 2020 presidential contest.

Judge Beryl Howell imposed the default judgment and monetary punishment because Giuliani repeatedly failed to comply with her orders to turn over electronically stored documents and other evidence sought by lawyers for the election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.

Howell blasted Giuliani for “willful … misconduct,” and “slippery” statements in failing to turn over the requested information as part of the legal process known as discovery.

“The bottom line is that Giuliani has refused to comply with his discovery obligations and thwarted plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea’ ArShaye Moss’s procedural rights to obtain any meaningful discovery in this case,” Howell wrote in a 57-page opinion that nodded at Giuliani’s recent criminal indictment with former President Donald Trump in Georgia.

The judge also ordered attorneys for Giuliani and the two women to propose three possible dates for trial in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on the question of how much money in compensatory and punitive damages he should be ordered to pay them as a result of the default judgment.

Ted Goodman, a political advisor to Giuliani, in a statement, said, “This 57 page opinion on discovery — which would usually be no more than two or three pages — is a prime example of the weaponization of the justice system, where the process is the punishment.”

“This decision should be reversed, as Mayor Giuliani is wrongly accused of not preserving electronic evidence that was seized and held by the FBI,” Goodman said.

Lawyers for Freeman and Moss, who are mother and daughter, released a statement from the women.

“What we went through after the 2020 election was a living nightmare. Rudy Giuliani helped unleash a wave of hatred and threats we never could have imagined. It cost us our sense of security and our freedom to go about our lives,” the woman said.

“Nothing can restore all we lost, but today’s ruling is yet another neutral finding that has confirmed what we have known all along: that there was never any truth to any of the accusations about us and that we did nothing wrong,” the woman said. ” We were smeared for purely political reasons, and the people responsible can and should be held accountable.”

“The fight to rebuild our reputations and to repair the damage to our lives is not over. But today we’re one step closer, and for that we are grateful.”

Freeman last year told a select House committee, “I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation” as the result of false claims Giuliani made about her handling of voters’ ballots while he was representing Trump.

Trump himself had repeatedly mentioned Freeman by name in a January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the then-president pressured the official to “find” Trump enough votes to overturn his electoral loss in the state.

“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” Freeman asked during her testimony.

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Giuliani was indicted two weeks ago with Trump and 17 co-defendants by a grand jury in Atlanta on charges related to an alleged conspiracy to illegally overturn Trump’s loss in 2020 to President Joe Biden in Georgia.

That indictment details an effort by Trump, Giuliani and others to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Biden’s victory in Georgia, an effort that included making false claims about the work of Freeman and Moss.

Among other things, Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, had said at a Georgia Senate hearing that Freeman and Moss had passed each other USB flash drives like “vials of heroin or cocaine” as part of a scheme to defraud Trump of an election win.

Moss later told Congress that the items were actually candy.

The women had sued Giuliani in 2021 with claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.

Giuliani in a court filing last month conceded, for the purposes of the lawsuit, that he had made “false” statements about the women that were “defamatory per se.”

In her scathing opinion Tuesday, Howell detailed why monetary sanctions were required for Giuliani’s failure to comply with discovery requests in the case.

The judge wrote, “Due to Giuliani’s discovery conduct, plaintiffs have filed two motions to compel production from Giuliani and his eponymous businesses, Giuliani Communications LLC and Giuliani Partners LLC,” resulting in two hearings on those motions, and Howell ordering him multiple times to comply with discovery requests.

“The result of these efforts to obtain discovery from Giuliani, aside from his initial production of 193 documents, is largely a single page of communications, blobs of indecipherable data, a sliver of the financial documents required to be produced, and a declaration and two stipulations from Giuliani, who indicates in the latter stipulations his preference to concede plaintiffs’ claims rather than produce discovery in this case,” Howell wrote.

The judge wrote that Giuliani, in responding to discovery demands, had made “stipulations” that “hold more holes than Swiss cheese,” with the most recent one “expressly reserving his arguments” that the statements he made about the woman are legally protected and nonactionable “for purposes of appeal.”

Howell noted Giuliani’s efforts to overturn Trump’s 2020 electoral loss as she rejected that as a legitimate excuse not to turn over all of the information being sought by the women.

“Just as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks — even potential criminal liability — bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions, no matter what reservations a noncompliant party may try artificially to preserve for appeal,” the judge wrote.

“Given the willful shirking of his discovery obligations in anticipation of and during this litigation, Giuliani leaves little other choice,” Howell wrote. “For the reasons set out below, the pending motion [for sanctions] is granted. Default judgment will be entered against Giuliani as a discovery sanction.”

She ordered Giuliani to personally pay $89,172.50 to the women to reimburse them for attorneys’ fees and costs related to their successful first motion to compel the production of that evidence.

Howell also ordered Giuliani to compel two of his companies to pay another $43,684 to the women for the same conduct.

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