A federal judge has ruled former New York mayor and Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani liable for defaming two Georgia election workers whom he falsely accused of tampering with the 2020 election results.
Judge Beryl A. Howell entered a default judgment against him “as a straight-up sanction” for his failure to provide necessary documentation to the plaintiffs.
Giuliani will still go to trial in D.C. federal court on the amount of monetary damages he owes to Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss. But Howell has already ordered Giuliani to pay roughly $132,000 in sanctions between his personal and business assets for his failures to hand over relevant information. And she said those failures, combined with Giuliani’s own admissions, compelled her to rule without a trial that he defamed both women, intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them as part of a civil conspiracy, and owes punitive damages.
Last month, as part of the wrangling over the records he had failed to share, Giuliani agreed not to contest that he made false and defamatory claims about the two poll workers. But in the same filings, he said he was not giving up the right to argue that his comments were constitutionally protected speech that did not cause damage, along with other defenses. On Wednesday, Howell said that admission had “more holes than Swiss cheese,” and that Giuliani was trying “to bypass the discovery process and a merits trial — at which his defenses may be fully scrutinized and tested in our judicial system’s time-honored adversarial process — and to delay such a fair reckoning by taking his chances on appeal.”
But, she said, Giuliani cannot “have his proverbial cake and eat it too.”
Giuliani repeatedly claimed in the weeks after the 2020 election that misleading security footage from Georgia showed Freeman and Moss bringing in “suitcases” full of fake votes for Joe Biden. Those claims were quickly debunked by election officials in Georgia, who explained that the so-called suitcases were regular ballot boxes and that nothing untoward had occurred. But Giuliani and others continued to accuse the two of malfeasance; they received death threats and were forced into hiding.
Because Giuliani failed to preserve emails, text messages and social media account information from the time period when he made those accusations, Howell said, Freeman and Moss are “severely hampered” in their ability to prove his statements were intentionally false and part of a broader conspiracy rather than merely negligent.
Among the messages Giuliani failed to preserve and produce, according to the court record, is a Dec. 7, 2020, text he sent in response to a Trump adviser’s request for “best examples of ‘election fraud’ that we’ve alleged that’s super easy to explain. Doesn’t necessarily have to be proven, but does need to be easy to understand.” According to the records, Giuliani replied by highlighting the Georgia video. Trump went on to reference the video in meetings with top Justice Department officials and in a phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, during which the president asked for the state official to “find 11,780 votes.”
The plaintiffs became aware of large gaps in what Giuliani provided because of records received from others involved, according to the court record. Giuliani claimed that he lost access to much of his electronic information because it was seized by the FBI in an unrelated investigation in April 2021. But Howell found that Giuliani failed to make meaningful efforts to explain what exactly was missing or to retrieve it, instead giving “vague” and “shifting descriptions” of the problem.
The judge also pointed out that Giuliani has “a self-professed 50 years of experience in litigation,” including working as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“Given Giuliani’s much-vaunted experience as an attorney, he plainly should have known better,” Howell wrote, concluding that his failure to produce the information was “deliberate.” She suggested he was trying to avoid disclosing information that could hurt him in other civil and criminal cases. Earlier this month, Giuliani was charged in Georgia with involvement in a scheme to subvert the election results. The federal indictment brought against Trump in D.C. lists Giuliani as an unnamed co-conspirator and includes the false Georgia claims as part of an alleged criminal conspiracy to keep Biden out of office.
“[J]ust as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks — even potential criminal liability — bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions,” Howell wrote.
While his liability is no longer in dispute, Giuliani still must hand over financial information for the determination of damages, including metrics for a podcast on which he impugned the Georgia workers. He and his businesses must also pay the plaintiffs back for the attorney fees they spent trying to get him to comply with Howell’s rulings. If he continues to withhold his financial records, Howell said, she will instruct the jury deciding damages to “infer that he is intentionally trying to hide relevant discovery about his financial assets for the purpose of artificially deflating his net worth.”
Giuliani political adviser Ted Goodman said in a statement that the ruling was “a prime example of the weaponization of our justice system, where the process is the punishment,” and that it “should be reversed.”
Attorneys for Freeman and Moss did not respond to a request for comment.
In a separate case, Freeman and Moss settled last year with the right-wing television network One America News, which also spread misinformation about them.