A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Rudy Giuliani is legally liable for defaming two Georgia election workers who became the subject of conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election that were amplified by Donald Trump in the final weeks of his presidency.
In an unsparing, 57-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell said Giuliani had flagrantly violated her orders to preserve and produce relevant evidence to the election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, resulting in a “default” judgment against him. She also ordered him to pay Freeman and Moss “punitive” damages for failing to fulfill his obligations. A jury will determine the amount of those damages.
“Just as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks — even potential criminal liability — bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions,” Howell ruled.
Giuliani spent weeks accusing Freeman and Moss of manipulating ballots during Georgia’s vote counting process after the 2020 election, despite repeated investigations that debunked and discredited the allegations.
The harassment that Freeman and Moss endured as a result of these conspiracy theories is at the heart of some of the criminal charges now facing several of Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia racketeering case brought by Fulton County prosecutors. Giuliani is charged in that case, in part, for “false statements” to Georgia legislators related to his attacks on Freeman and Moss.
Howell’s ruling is tied to Freeman and Moss’ separate lawsuit against Giuliani in federal court in Washington for defamation, civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Howell has now ordered the case to proceed to a trial purely to determine the amount of damages Giuliani will have to pay them.
It’s unclear how much money the pair will seek in the trial, either in direct compensation for the damage to their reputations and other harms they faced or in terms of punitive damages — which in some cases can far exceed direct damages. The total might be influenced by what Giuliani does next.
Howell’s ruling comes several weeks after Giuliani appeared to concede that he made false claims about Moss and Freeman, part of a bid to avoid having to provide additional evidence. But Howell said the carefully crafted admissions, contained in a court filing from Giuliani’s lawyers, “hold more holes than Swiss cheese.”
Howell has given the former New York City mayor and former federal prosecutor until Sept. 20 to produce documents about his net worth, which she said he has dragged his feet on producing so far, as well as records from his companies related to the revenue produced by his “Common Sense” podcast.
A spokesman for Giuliani had no immediate comment on the ruling.
The election workers filed their lawsuit in 2021 against Giuliani and the owners of the conservative, pro-Trump One America News network, alleging that reports about claims the pair tampered with ballots were unfounded and libelous. One America’s owners settled with the two women last year for an unspecified amount, but the litigation has continued against Giuliani.
Giuliani has insisted that his difficulties in searching his records related to the allegations against Freeman and Moss stemmed from factors like the FBI’s seizure of his devices in 2021 as part of a foreign-influence investigation that did not lead to any charges against him and serious personal financial difficulties he has faced since Trump’s defeat in 2020.
“The FBI took every electronic device in my apartment and my law office,” Giuliani said at a May hearing in the suit. Indignantly insisting that he was not trying to deny the plaintiffs access to evidence related to their claims “I’ve been dealing with this for 50 years. I understand the obligation. …There’s nothing I want to hide. I’d like them to see everything. … Not being perfect doesn’t mean you’re deleting things. I don’t delete things.”
After repeated requests by Giuliani, a Trump political action committee recently agreed to pay $320,000 to allow Giuliani to pay a vendor to perform searches for digital evidence related to the lawsuit.
Howell’s latest ruling comes amid a renewed and assertive effort by Giuliani and his allies to convince Trump to foot more of Giuliani’s mounting legal bills, which now include not only civil lawsuits, but the criminal indictment in Georgia where Trump, Giuliani and others are charged with racketeering for allegedly trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state.
Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said in her ruling Wednesday that she considered it possible that Giuliani concluded that dodging his obligations related to the election workers’ lawsuit made sense strategically to avoid giving fodder to prosecutors or lawyers pursuing other cases.
“Perhaps, he has made the calculation that his overall litigation risks are minimized by not complying with his discovery obligations in this case,” Howell wrote. “Whatever the reason, obligations are case specific and withholding required discovery in this case has consequences.”
Howell also suggested that Giuliani’s complaints about the flurry of legal demands he is facing are theatrical and intended for political consumption.
“Donning a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage to certain audiences, but in a court of law this performance has served only to subvert the normal process of discovery in a straight-forward defamation case, with the concomitant necessity of repeated court intervention,” she said. “The fact that Giuliani is a sophisticated litigant with a self-professed 50 years of experience in litigation — including serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — only underscores his lackluster preservation efforts.”
Last month, Howell ordered the former mayor to pay nearly $90,000 of the election workers’ legal expenses due to what she found was noncompliance with her earlier discovery orders. In her ruling Wednesday, the judge ordered Giuliani and his businesses to pay an additional roughly $43,000 due to the failures. Those sums are separate from any damages a jury may impose.