The ruling affirms a claim that Giuliani defamed election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss when he accused them of committing fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The case now heads to trial by early 2024 solely to determine whether Giuliani must pay damages for spreading the false claims.
The judgment comes as Giuliani, former President Donald Trump and 17 other defendants face criminal charges in Fulton County involving their efforts to reverse the results of the presidential election. Trump also faces separate federal charges involving his efforts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. False claims of election fraud — including those leveled against the two Fulton election workers — feature prominently in those indictments.
In previous court filings, attorneys for Giuliani had claimed he could not produce documents because they had been seized by federal authorities in an unrelated criminal investigation.
“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,” Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, said Wednesday. “This decision should be reversed, as Mayor Giuliani is wrongly accused of not preserving electronic evidence that was seized and held by the FBI.”
Freeman and her daughter, Moss, issued a statement calling Wednesday’s ruling a “sweeping victory.”
“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,” they said. “We were smeared for purely political reasons, and the people responsible can and should be held accountable.”
Freeman and Moss counted ballots at State Farm Arena on election night in November 2020. A few weeks later, Giuliani — acting as Trump’s attorney — unveiled snippets of surveillance video of that counting at a legislative hearing in Atlanta. He said the video was a “smoking gun” that proved election fraud.
It was not. State and federal investigators reviewed the entire video and interviewed the workers and numerous witnesses. They concluded the video showed only normal ballot counting and the workers did nothing wrong.
But Giuliani and Trump continued to spread false claims about Freeman and Moss by name. The mother and daughter endured harassment and death threats, and Freeman fled her home for months on the advice of the FBI.
The pair filed a defamation lawsuit against Giuliani and One America News Network in U.S. District Court in Washington. The news network settled the case and admitted the workers did not commit fraud. Howell later denied Giuliani’s motion to dismiss the case.
Since then, the plaintiffs have sought to obtain communication and other records from Giuliani and companies he owns. But he has not complied with court orders to produce the documents.
The election workers filed motions to sanction Giuliani and, ultimately, for a default judgment. In July, Giuliani conceded his statements were false, though he did not concede they damaged the plaintiffs.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Howell blasted Giuliani’s refusal to comply with court orders to produce documents, as well as his public claims that the election workers’ efforts to obtain documents amounted to using the litigation process to punish him.
“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 straightforward defamation case, with the concomitant necessity of repeated court intervention,” the judge wrote in her opinion.
“The bottom line is that Giuliani has refused to comply with his discovery obligations and thwarted” the plantiffs’ procedural rights, Howell wrote.
Wednesday’s order granted the default judgment and ordered Giuliani and his company to pay attorneys fees to cover the plaintiffs’ cost of trying to obtain documents from him. Now all that’s left is to decide whether Giuliani must pay additional damages for making the false statements.
Freeman and Moss, who left their Fulton election positions, also have filed a defamation lawsuit against the conservative media outlet Gateway Pundit. That case is still pending.
“The fight to rebuild our reputations and to repair the damage to our lives is not over,” the election workers said. “But today we’re one step closer, and for that we are grateful.”
Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.
A trial will determine whether Rudy Giuliani must pay damages — and how much — for making false statements about former Fulton County election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. The trial tentatively will be held sometime between November and February.