WASHINGTON – Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani faces a trial on Monday to determine how much he owes a mother-daughter team of Georgia poll workers who were harassed and threatened after he defamed them on national television with false and lurid claims of election fraud.
Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss sued Giuliani, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, in December 2021 after he’d accused them a year earlier of committing election fraud while counting votes in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.
The women said they suffered an onslaught of violent and racist threats and harassment after Giuliani, comparing the mother and daughter to drug dealers, named them at a state legislative hearing and in news interviews. State election officials investigated Giuliani's claims and found no widespread fraud in President Joe Biden’s victory.
In August, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled Giuliani liable for defamation after he refused to contest the lawsuit’s major accusations. Howell has already ordered Giuliani to pay Freeman and Moss $89,172 for legal fees and for his businesses to reimburse them $43,684 in sanctions for refusing to share emails and other records in the case.
What are Rudy Giuliani's other legal cases?
Monday’s trial is part of a series of civil and criminal cases nationwide stemming from the hotly contested 2020 election.
In one of the most serious cases, Giuliani and Trump are both co-defendants in a Georgia election racketeering case filed by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis that charges them in a criminal conspiracy to overturn that state’s 2020 results.
Both men have busy legal dockets.
Giuliani’s Washington, DC, civil trial starts the same day Trump is set to retake the witness stand in a $250 million civil real estate fraud trial in New York.
And Giuliani, who gained international fame as “America’s Mayor” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, faces disbarment proceedings in Washington over his false allegations of voter fraud in Georgia and other states.
Trump also faces federal charges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and over his refusal to return classified documents after leaving the White House, as well as state charges in New York over hush money payments to an adult film actress.
How did Giuliani defame Freeman and Moss?
Freeman and Moss' lawsuit against Giuliani alleges he made them “scapegoats” who became the “objects of vitriol, threats, and harassment.”
Giuliani accused the election workers “under false pretenses” of excluding observers during the vote count, of introducing “suitcases” of illegal ballots, counting the same ballots multiple times and surreptitiously passing around flash drives, the lawsuit said.
At a meeting with Georgia lawmakers on Dec. 10, 2020, Giuliani said they had stolen votes in plain sight and that 12,000 to 14,000 ballots had been illegally counted. Biden won the state by 11,779 votes.
In an allegation that’s come back to haunt him, Giuliani told lawmakers Freeman and Moss were "quite obviously, surreptitiously, passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine."
But Freeman and Moss testified at a U.S. House hearing that they were passing ginger mints.
State investigators found Giuliani’s allegations were baseless. Officials found ballots weren’t counted multiple times, as he had charged, and the suitcases of ballots were routine storage containers. A hand recount of ballots confirmed Biden’s victory, the first in Georgia by a Democratic presidential candidate in nearly 30 years.
On Jan. 6, 2021 − the day of the Capitol riot − a crowd on foot and in vehicles surrounded Freeman's house, the lawsuit said. She was forced to flee her home for two months, at the recommendation of the FBI, and she shuttered her online business.
“They tried to force their way into my mom’s house to do a citizen’s arrest on Shaye and me,” Freeman told the Congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. “There is nowhere I feel safe – nowhere.”
"Both Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss received an immediate onslaught of violent and racist threats and harassment," the lawsuit said. Giuliani's "lies had instant and profound consequences."
How did Giuliani respond to the lawsuit?
At first, Giuliani denied the lawsuits allegations through his lawyer, Joseph Sibley.
The onetime top federal prosecutor in Manhattan later told the judge he couldn’t hand over relevant emails and records to Freeman and Moss because his electronic devices had been erased after the FBI seized them during an unrelated criminal investigation. (No charges were filed in that investigation.)
Giuliani had a version of the documents stored with a company called TrustPoint. But Freeman and Moss found the archive unsearchable.
Howell ruled in August that Giuliani had "donned the cloak of victimization" and paid only "lip service" to sharing evidence. She found his concessions "turned slippery on scrutiny" with "excuses designed to shroud the insufficiency" of his compliance with court orders.
"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," Howell wrote.
Giuliani aiming for appeal?
By summer, Giuliani told the court he would not contest Freeman and Moss’ defamation charges, but he said he wouldn’t agree to damages – setting the stage for Monday’s trial.
"Giuliani’s stipulations hold more holes than Swiss cheese," Howell wrote in August, finding him liable for defamation.
Giuliani made an 11th hour request for Howell to hear Monday’s case alone, but she ruled that a jury would be better able to weigh how much he should pay Freeman and Moss. Howell called Giuliani's claims that he cannot afford to reimburse the women for what he already owes them"especially dubious" because he paid TrustPoint $320,000, listed his New York apartment for sale at $6.5 million and flew in a private jet to his arraignment on criminal charges in Georgia.
Giuliani appears to be conserving his arguments in the case for an anticipated appeal. In choosing not to contest the defamation allegations, Giuliani held onto the chance to argue that his comments about the women were constitutionally protected speech.
Judge Howell said she expects an appeal, based on Giuliani’s failure to share evidence in the case under a process called "discovery."
"The reservations in Giuliani’s stipulations make clear his goal 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, based on the abbreviated record he forced on plaintiffs," Howell wrote.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rudy Giuliani faces defamation trial over false claims of election fraud