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A Washington, D.C., jury ruled Friday that Rudy Giuliani, the former attorney for President Donald Trump, must pay $148 million in damages for defaming former Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss in a case at the intersection of democracy and racialized threats that featured wrenching testimony.
Freeman and Moss, a mother and daughter who worked the 2020 election, sued Giuliani in late 2021 for his role in falsely accusing them of engaging in election fraud while they were counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Moss was, at the time, a full-time worker at the Fulton County Elections Department, and Freeman volunteered to help with the vote count.
Federal Judge Beryl A. Howell entered a default judgment in August finding Guiliani liable for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and punitive damage claims. She ordered Giuliani to cover Freeman and Moss’ attorney’s fees and set a jury trial to determine the amount he would be forced to pay in damages. Freeman and Moss’ lawyers had asked the jury to award them $24 million each in compensatory damages with additional punitive damages. The jury ultimately ordered Giuliani to pay $75 million in punitive damages, $33 million in compensatory damages and $40 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Both women, who are Black, said they received a torrent of harassment and racist abuse when Trump and his allies used surveillance video footage to baselessly accuse them of pulling ballots out of suitcases and interfering in the vote count. Multiple recounts confirmed President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Georgia, and exhaustive reviews by federal and state officials, which were cited at trial, found no evidence of fraud or malfeasance.
On Tuesday, Moss took the stand to describe the impacts of the harassment and threats on her life. Before 2020, she said, she enjoyed her job working in elections and had a normal social life. But false allegations of fraud spread by Giuliani and others made her fear for her life, Politico and The Guardian reported. Moss testified that she felt like a “pariah” at a job she loved and was afraid to go out in public and be around other people, prompting her to alter her appearance.
The toll of the harassment affected her entire family and her livelihood: protesters showed up at her house to perform a “citizen’s arrest” of her grandmother, she testified, and her son’s grades suffered as a result of the ordeal. She said she continues to struggle with major depressive disorder and anxiety and hasn’t worked since leaving the Fulton County Elections office.
“Most days, I pray that God does not wake me up and I just disappear,” she said on the stand.
Freeman, who took the stand Wednesday, recounted the damage to her name, reputation and small business when Trump and Giuliani spread falsehoods about her after the 2020 election. She said the racist and violent threats she received only ramped up after Trump mentioned her name 18 times in a now-infamous January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Trump asked him to “find” 11,780 votes to win him the election.
“I just felt like really? This is the former president talking about me? Me? How mean, how evil. I just was devastated,” Freeman said, according to Politico.
Freeman testified she left her home for several months on the advice of the FBI after her and Moss’ names were found on a “death list” kept by an associate of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist militia group heavily involved in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Freeman outfitted her house with security cameras and an alarm system upon her return and said she hides her appearance with sunglasses and a face mask.
The verdict is one of the highest-profile instances yet of a political figure facing monetary consequences for spreading lies about an election official. The woman-dominated election workforce has faced a sharp uptake in harassment and threats since the 2020 election, but election workers often have little legal recourse. An expert witness for the plaintiffs, Ashlee Humphreys, said defamatory and harmful messages about Freeman and Moss got nearly 250 million impressions across multiple platforms.
“We need to ensure that the election workers that are still there don’t have to go through this,” Moss testified, according to the Guardian. “Hopefully by hitting someone in their pockets, for someone whose whole career has been about their pockets, we will send a message.”
The outcome, however, isn’t the end of efforts to secure justice for the threats against Freeman and Moss.
In a wide-ranging racketeering case brought earlier this year, the Fulton County District Attorney’s office charged three people, including former celebrity publicist Trevian Kutti, with attempting to intimidate Freeman to falsely confess to election fraud in January 2021. Freeman and Moss have also sued The Gateway Pundit, a Missouri-based right-wing website, for defamation.
The judgment against Giuliani deepens his ongoing legal and financial troubles stemming from his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Dominion Voting Systems, which reached a $787 million settlement in a defamation case against Fox News earlier this year, is also suing Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell. In court filings, Howell had instructed the jury to factor in that Giuliani was “intentionally trying to hide relevant discovery about his financial assets for the purpose of artificially deflating his net worth.”
On the first day of the trial, Giuliani’s lawyer Joe Sibley conceded that Freeman and Moss had been harmed by the false election fraud claims but sought to distance them from Giuliani. He asserted that a hefty judgment would be a “death penalty” for his client, saying: “This will be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”
But in remarks to the media outside the courthouse after the first day of the trial on Monday, Giuliani stood by his comments about Freeman and Moss and said he had no regrets for them. His missives earned him a rebuke from Howell, Politico reported, who warned him the next day that they could constitute further defamation against Freeman and Moss and lead to him being held in contempt of court.
Sibley admitted in court that his client’s statements were “hard to reconcile” and pointed to Giuliani’s age, saying, “This has taken a bit of a toll on him. He’s almost 80 years old.”
Giuliani was expected to take the stand Thursday, the fourth day of trial, but his lawyer announced he would not testify, saying in court: “We feel these women have been through enough.”