Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

WASHINGTON—A jury awarded $148 million in damages on Friday to two former Georgia election workers who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation over lies he spread about them in 2020 that upended their lives with racist threats and harassment.

The damages verdict follows emotional testimony from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who tearfully described becoming the target of a false conspiracy theory pushed by Giuliani and other Republicans as they tried to keep then-President Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election.

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There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when the jury foreperson read aloud the $75 million award in punitive damages for the women. Moss and Freeman were each awarded another roughly $36 million in other damages.

Giuliani didn’t appear to show any emotion as the verdict was read after about 10 hours of deliberations. Moss and Freeman hugged their attorneys after the jury left the courtroom and didn’t look at Giuliani as he left with his lawyer.

Giuliani told reporters outside Washington’s federal courthouse that he will appeal, saying the “absurdity of the number merely underscores the absurdity of the entire proceeding.”

“It will be reversed so quickly it will make your head spin, and the absurd number that just came in will help that actually,” he said.

Giuliani had already been found liable in the case and previously conceded in court documents that he falsely accused the women of ballot fraud. Even so, the former New York City mayor continued to repeat his baseless allegations about the women in comments to reporters outside the Washington, D.C., courthouse this week.

Giuliani’s lawyer acknowledged that his client was wrong but insisted that Giuliani was not fully responsible for the vitriol the women faced. The defense sought to largely pin the blame on a right-wing website that published the surveillance video of the two women counting ballots.

The judgment adds to growing financial and legal peril for Giuliani, who was among the loudest proponents of Trump’s false claims of election fraud that are now a key part of the criminal cases against the former president.

Giuliani had already been showing signs of financial strain as he defends himself against costly lawsuits and investigations stemming from his representation of Trump. His lawyer suggested that the defamation case could financially ruin the former mayor, saying “it would be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

And Giuliani is still facing his biggest test yet: fighting criminal charges in the Georgia case accusing Trump and 18 others of working to subvert the results of the 2020 election, won by Democrat Joe Biden, in that state. Giuliani has pleaded not guilty and characterized the case as politically motivated.

Jurors in the defamation case heard recordings of Giuliani falsely accusing the election workers of sneaking in ballots in suitcases, counting ballots multiple times and tampering with voting machines. Trump also repeated the conspiracy theories through his social media accounts. Lawyers for Moss and Freeman, who are Black, also played for jurors audio recordings of the graphic and racist threats the women received.

The women’s lawyers asked for at least $24 million for each woman in defamation damages alone. They also sought compensation for their emotional harm and punitive damages.

On the witness stand, Moss and Freeman described fearing for their lives as hateful messages poured in. Moss told jurors she tried to change her appearance, seldom leaves her home and suffers from panic attacks. Her mother described strangers banging on her door and recounted fleeing her home after people came with bullhorns and the FBI told her she wasn’t safe.

“It’s so scary, anytime I go somewhere, if I have to use my name,” Freeman said, gasping through her tears to get her words out. “I miss my old neighborhood because I was me, I could introduce myself. Now I don’t have a name, really.”

Defense attorney Joseph Sibley told jurors they should compensate the women for what they are owed, but he urged them to “remember this is a great man.”

An attorney for Moss and Freeman, in his closing argument, highlighted how Giuliani has not stopped repeating the false conspiracy theory asserting the workers interfered in the November 2020 presidential election. Attorney Michael Gottlieb played a video of Giuliani outside the courthouse on Monday, in which Giuliani falsely claimed the women were “engaged in changing votes.”

“Mr. Giuliani has shown over and over again he will not take our client’s names out of his mouth,” Gottlieb said. “Facts will not stop him. He says he isn’t sorry and he’s telegraphing he will do this again. Believe him.”

The judge overseeing the election workers’ lawsuit had already ordered Giuliani and his business entities to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees. In holding Giuliani liable, the judge ruled that the former mayor gave “only lip service” to complying with his legal obligations while trying to portray himself as the victim in the case.

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Michael Kunzelman contributed from Washington.

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