Giuliani must pay $148 million to Georgia election workers in defamation trial

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Rudy Giuliani must pay more than $148 million in damages to two former Georgia election workers he defamed through false accusations that they helped rig the 2020 election against Donald Trump, a jury decided on Friday.

The jury in federal court in Washington, D.C., found that Giuliani owes the workers, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, roughly $73 million to compensate them for the reputational and emotional harm they suffered and $75 million to punish the former Trump lawyer and one-time New York major for his conduct.

A federal judge determined before the trial that Giuliani was liable for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. The only question before the jury was how much in damages to impose on Giuliani, who helped Republican former President Trump advance his false claims of a stolen 2020 election.

The verdict was reached after an emotional three days of testimony in which Moss and Freeman, who are Black, recounted the deluge of racist and sexist messages, including threats of lynching, they received after Trump and his allies spread false claims that they were engaged in voter fraud.

“Mr. Giuliani thought he could get away with making Ruby and Shaye the face of election fraud because he thought they were ordinary and expendable,” the workers’ lawyer Michael Gottlieb said during his closing argument. “He has no right to offer defenseless civil servants up to a virtual mob in order to overturn an election.”

The plaintiffs requested at least $48 million on the defamation claim and an unspecified sum for emotional distress and punitive damages.

Joseph Sibley, a lawyer for Giuliani, acknowledged that his client had caused harm, but said the penalty the plaintiffs sought would be “catastrophic” for his client. He told the jury Giuliani was a “good man,” referencing his role as mayor of New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Rudy Giuliani shouldn’t be defined by what’s happened in recent times,” Sibley said during his closing argument.

Giuliani, who publicly claimed he would testify during the trial, ultimately opted not to take the witness stand.

Giuliani made repeated false claims that a surveillance video showed Moss and Freeman concealing and counting “suitcases” filled with illegal ballots at a basketball arena in Atlanta that was used to process votes during the 2020 election.

Trump also singled out Freeman by name in a highly publicized January 2021 phone call during which he pressured Georgia’s top election officer, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” votes to overturn his narrow defeat in the state.

A state investigation found that the woman were legally and properly processing ballots. Lawyers for the two women alleged that the claims were part of a conspiracy that involved Trump, his legal team and a right-wing media outlet to help Trump sow doubt about the election and reverse his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.

Giuliani has faced a series of civil and criminal woes – and mounting legal fees — since helping to spearhead Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

Giuliani has been criminally charged in the Georgia racketeering case against Trump and several of his allies, in part for targeting Moss and Freeman. He has pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone, Andy Sullivan and Mark Porter)

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