Attorney: ‘Send a message’ by punishing Giuliani for Fulton election lies

Defamation damages trial kicks off in federal court

WASHINGTON – Attorneys for two former Fulton County election workers Monday urged a jury to make Rudy Giuliani pay tens of millions of dollars for falsely accusing their clients of voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has already found Giuliani – the former New York city mayor and attorney for Donald Trump – liable for defaming Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. To underscore the harm the mother and daughter suffered, their attorneys played for jurors a sample of the expletive-laden, racist voice mails they received after Giuliani and others falsely accused them of fraud.

In their opening statement, the attorneys asked jurors to punish Giuliani for spreading lies about the election workers long after the claims against them had been investigated and debunked.

“Consider a verdict that will send a message,” attorney Michael Gottlieb told jurors. “That message is: In the United States of America, behavior like Rudy Giuliani’s is not an inevitable part of politics.”

In his own opening statement, Giuliani’s attorney acknowledged Freeman and Moss have suffered harm. But he said much of that harm cannot be traced to Guiliani.

“They didn’t deserve what happened to them,” attorney Joseph Sibley told jurors. “But what happened to them happened because of a controversy that involved a lot of people, not just Rudy Giuliani.”

FILE - Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman, right, at a hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

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In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Giuliani led a team of attorneys who aided Trump’s effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia and other states. At a December 2020 legislative hearing in Atlanta, Giuliani showed edited security footage that he said showed Freeman and Moss had committed election fraud while they counted ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.

The FBI, the GBI and the Georgia secretary of state investigated the claims and found nothing improper happened. But Giuliani, Trump and others continued to accuse Freeman and Moss of election fraud.

The claims angered many Trump supporters. Strangers began to appear at Freeman’s door, and she received numerous threatening phone calls.

Attorney Von DuBose played a sample of those messages for jurors Monday. Many were laden with expletives. Some repeatedly used racial epithets.

“You’re all going to [expletive] jail,” one caller said.

As the Jan. 6, 2021, congressional certification of Biden’s victory neared, Freeman fled her home on the advice of the FBI. She didn’t return for two months. She also shuttered her clothing business.

Moss and her 14-year-old son also received threats. Moss eventually left her job in the Fulton County election office.

Now Freeman and Moss are seeking up to $47 million in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages to deter Giuliani from making false allegations in the future.

“We’re going to ask you to attach numbers to harms that are inherently difficult to quantify in dollars and cents,” Gottlieb said. “How much is someone’s reputation worth? What about peace of mind? Dignity? Safety?”

Sibley argued the plaintiffs are asking for too much – far more than the $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages that actor Johnny Depp won in a defamation trial last year.

“The punishment should fit the crime,” Sibley argued. “What the plaintiffs are asking for here is really the civil equivalent of the death penalty. If you award them what they’re asking for, it will be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

This week’s trial gave Freeman and Moss their first chance to confront Giuliani in court. Throughout the morning, as the parties chose a jury, Freeman sat with her back to Giuliani as the parties sat at different tables.

Moss also kept her back to Giuliani for much of the morning. The parties did not appear to communicate with each other.

Both election workers and Giuliani are expected to testify in the coming days.

The trial is the latest development in the election workers’ effort to hold people and institutions accountable for spreading false claims against them.

They have already settled a claim against One America News Network for an undisclosed amount. They also have a pending claim against the conservative media site Gateway Pundit.

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