A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of two Georgia election workers who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation, further ordering the attorney associated with former President Trump to pay sanctions.
Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss sued Giuliani in December 2021 over his baseless statements claiming the duo helped commit election fraud.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in a 57-page opinion ruled in favor of the two election workers by default after Giuliani resisted turning over discovery in the case. Her ruling suggested Giuliani may have done so to reduce his legal exposure in other cases.
“Perhaps, he has made the calculation that his overall litigation risks are minimized by not complying with his discovery obligations in this case,” Howell wrote. “Whatever the reason, obligations are case specific and withholding required discovery in this case has consequences.”
Howell also ordered Giuliani to pay nearly $90,000 and his businesses to pay more than $43,000 to reimburse legal fees the election workers incurred in their attempt to compel Giuliani to turn over the discovery.
The ruling marks a significant legal blow for Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York City mayor turned attorney for Trump. Giuliani was indicted this month in Georgia for his actions following the 2020 election, including allegations that overlap with the election workers’ lawsuit.
In the wake of the election, Giuliani made a series of false statements about Freeman and Moss’s work at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where ballots were counted. Giuliani and other Trump allies baselessly claimed the two workers committed election fraud by processing “suitcases” of illicit ballots.
Howell’s ruling finds Giuliani civilly liable by default for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
“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. This decision should be reversed, as Mayor Giuliani is wrongly accused of not preserving electronic evidence that was seized and held by the FBI,” Ted Goodman, political advisor to Giuliani, said in a statement.
A trial will still be held to consider damages, and Howell’s ruling gives Giuliani a final opportunity to turn over discovery for the trial.
Giuliani has notably appeared to face a cash crunch as his legal bills mount. He also faces two defamation suits from voting equipment companies and disbarment proceedings.
Trump is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Giuliani next month.
“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 straight-forward defamation case, with the concomitant necessity of repeated court intervention,” Howell ruled on Wednesday.
Rather than hand over the documents, Giuliani late last month conceded in court filings that the statements in question were false and defamatory.
Howell said the admissions “hold more holes than Swiss cheese,” noting that Giuliani reserved his ability to argue the statements were opinion or constitutionally protected for appeal.
“The reservations in Giuliani’s stipulations make clear his goal to bypass the discovery process and a merits trial — at which his defenses may be fully scrutinized and tested in our judicial system’s time-honored adversarial process — and to delay such a fair reckoning by taking his chances on appeal, based on the abbreviated record he forced on plaintiffs,” Howell ruled.
“Yet, just as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks — even potential criminal liability — bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions, no matter what reservations a noncompliant party may try artificially to preserve for appeal,” she added.
This story was updated at 1:03 p.m.