The Cost of Spreading Lies
By ALAN FEUER
A federal jury will decide what Rudolph W. Giuliani should pay for defaming two election workers.
There will be no good news — only shades of bad — for Rudolph W. Giuliani when he appears in court on Monday for a trial to determine how much he will have to pay two Georgia election workers he lied about after the 2020 presidential race.
Nearly two years ago, the election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, sued Mr. Giuliani for defamation, accusing him of some of the most pernicious falsehoods to have emerged from his attempts to keep his friend and client, Donald J. Trump, in office. Over and over, the women claimed, Mr. Giuliani dishonestly asserted that they had tried to cheat Mr. Trump out of a victory by manipulating ballots they were counting at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
After fighting the case for months, Mr. Giuliani reversed himself this summer and, seeking to avoid crippling legal fees, abruptly acknowledged that his serial attacks against the women were false. Weeks later, a federal judge agreed with him and entered a judgment holding him liable for defamation, civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Now Mr. Giuliani will have to endure a trial on the single question of whether he should have to pay what could be more than $40 million in damages. The proceeding, in Federal District Court in Washington, is scheduled to start with jury selection on Monday morning and is expected to continue through the week with testimony from both the plaintiffs and Mr. Giuliani.
The trial could not have come at a poorer moment for Mr. Giuliani, who is near the edge of financial ruin. He is being hounded for money, including by his onetime lawyer, and cannot currently work as a lawyer himself because of disciplinary actions against him.
Mr. Giuliani is confronting disbarment for what a Washington legal ethics panel has called his “unparalleled” efforts to reverse Mr. Trump’s defeat to President Biden. And he has been sued by Dominion Voting Systems for outlandish claims that the company helped to rig the presidential race against Mr. Trump.
Moreover, he has been indicted in Georgia in a racketeering case with the former president on charges of tampering with that state’s election.
But even in this flood of trouble, the Washington defamation trial will be a landmark moment: the first time that a jury will consider not if, but how, to punish Mr. Giuliani for the role he played in helping Mr. Trump spread lies about his loss in the election.
It will also offer the spectacle — perhaps to be repeated at other times and places — of the former white-knight lawman and celebrity mayor of New York being hauled into a courtroom to be held accountable for seeking to subvert the democratic process.
At the heart of the trial will be the testimony of Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, who are mother and daughter. When they take the stand, they are expected to discuss the expansive threats they experienced after Mr. Giuliani appeared on several podcasts and television shows falsely asserting, among other things, that they had brought illegal ballots into the counting center in a suitcase and had used a flash drive to alter votes in digital tabulation machines.
Even though these claims were quickly debunked, some of them were echoed by Mr. Trump, whose campaign promoted them on its Twitter account. Mr. Trump also mentioned Ms. Freeman in particular — calling her a “professional voter scammer” — when he spoke by phone in early 2021 with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, and asked him to help find sufficient votes for him to win the election in the state.
Last year, she testified at a public hearing held by the House select committee that investigated the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Ms. Freeman, who is Black, described the torrent of racist abuse that she and her daughter suffered after Mr. Trump began repeating Mr. Giuliani’s lies.
“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” she said. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?”
Mr. Giuliani is scheduled to testify in his own defense for about an hour, court papers say, and is expected to discuss “the circumstances” surrounding the remarks he made about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss. Presumably, his time on the stand will be spent attempting to persuade the jury that his statements about the women were only minimally damaging.
A representative for Mr. Giuliani said the trial was an example of the “weaponization of our justice system,” adding that Mr. Giuliani had had a long career of “public service and accomplishments.”
“The Rudy Giuliani you see today is the same man who took down the mafia, cleaned up New York City and comforted the nation following Sept. 11,” the representative, Ted Goodman, said.
Lawyers for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss have said they intend to ask for between $15.5 million and $43 million in compensatory damages related to Mr. Giuliani’s defamatory statements. And that request does not include any punitive damages the jury might decide to award, or damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Presiding over the trial will be Judge Beryl A. Howell, who oversaw the grand jury investigations resulting in the federal indictments Mr. Trump now faces. One of those indictments, filed in Washington, accuses Mr. Trump of plotting to overturn the 2020 election and identifies Mr. Giuliani, albeit not by name, as a coconspirator.
Judge Howell, who has also overseen scores of criminal cases stemming from the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, has shown little patience for defendants who took part in the pro-Trump riot. She has taken a similar stance toward Mr. Giuliani, repeatedly pointing out the ways in which his efforts to defend himself in the defamation case have been lacking.
In August, for example, after Mr. Giuliani ignored some of her orders, Judge Howell sanctioned him by skipping past the fact-finding phase of the trial and summarily finding him liable of the charges. She appeared annoyed when Mr. Giuliani conceded he had lied about the women, but still maintained that his attacks against them were protected by the First Amendment, telling him his reasoning had “more holes than Swiss cheese.”
Last week, she rebuked Mr. Giuliani for suddenly asking her, not a jury, to hear the trial. The arguments he offered to justify the 11th-hour switch were “simply nonsense,” she wrote.
To cap it off, Mr. Giuliani skipped one of the final court hearings in the case despite Judge Howell’s explicit orders that he be there. When she saw he was not in court, she gave an ominous warning to his lawyer.
“It sets the tone, doesn’t it, for the whole case,” she said.
A jury will decide how much should be paid for spreading lies.
New York Times