Judge blasts ‘nonsense’ claim by Rudy Giuliani ahead of election worker defamation trial

WASHINGTON — A jury trial is set to begin next week to determine how much Rudy Giuliani will have to pay two election workers he was found to be liable for defaming. And on Sunday night, a federal judge overseeing the case blasted the once-respected former New York City mayor for his repeated failure to comply with discovery obligations and his attempted change of course on “the eve of the jury trial.”

Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, filed suit against Giuliani and a host of others in December 2021. A jury trial is set to begin Dec. 11 to determine what damages, both compensatory and punitive, Giuliani will face. But the former Donald Trump lawyer recently said in court filings that decisions about damages should be made by a judge, not a jury.

In her filing Sunday, the judge overseeing the lawsuit said that Giuliani has been on notice about the jury trial demand for nearly two full years.

“Giuliani’s position that the long-standing jury demand in this case was extinguished when he was found liable on plaintiffs’ claims by default, is wrong as a matter of law,” U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell wrote. One of Giuliani’s claims — which Howell called an attempt “to shift blame onto plaintiffs for any prejudice resulting from a potential conversion from a jury to a bench trial” — is “simply nonsense,” Howell wrote.

Howell has already found Giuliani “civilly liable on plaintiffs’ defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and punitive damage claims” because of Giuliani’s “willful discovery misconduct” and his purposeful “shirking of his discovery obligations.”

Giuliani previously admitted that he made “false” statements about Freeman and Moss, both of whom worked at the ballot processing site at the State Farm Arena in Fulton County, Georgia, in 2020. Former President Donald Trump lost both the state of Georgia and the 2020 presidential election. Seeking to undermine those results, Giuliani repeatedly attacked the duo, once even falsely claiming that video showed Freeman and Moss passing around USB drives “like vials of heroin or cocaine,” when, in reality, Freeman had handed her daughter a ginger mint.

In a filing last month, Giuliani attorney Joseph D. Sibley IV wrote that a “jury trial is inappropriate on the issue of damages when a Court has issued a default judgment as a sanction” and requested that Howell decide damages instead of a jury. Giuliani could not get a fair trial, his attorneys argued, if a jury were read the court’s sanctions orders. Howell called that claim ironic.

“The irony of this assertion must be highlighted, given the many opportunities Giuliani was afforded to comply with his discovery obligations but to no avail, and the further opportunities Giuliani was afforded to be heard on any adverse instructions to be given to the jury, but he consented to those instructions,” Howell wrote.

Howell previously wrote that Giuliani had “given only lip service to compliance with his discovery obligations,” and that donning “a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage to certain audiences,” but not in court, where it “served only to subvert the normal process of discovery in a straight-forward defamation case.”

Ted Goodman, a Giuliani political adviser, said in a statement Monday that Howell’s “biases and prejudices are well known and have been demonstrated throughout this case and many others.”

Freeman and Moss are expected to testify at the trial, where their lawyers say they will talk about the “threats, harassment, and harm” they experienced as a result of the false claims against them.

“Plaintiffs will seek a sum ranging from $15.5 million to $43 million, inclusive of special damages,” their lawyers wrote. Freeman and Moss will “ask the jury to award compensatory damages for the severe emotional distress caused by Defendant Giuliani and his co-conspirators between 2020 through present in an amount to be determined by the jury, including based on Plaintiffs’ mental pain and suffering, fear, inconvenience, nervousness, indignity, insult, humiliation, or embarrassment that Plaintiffs suffered directly because of Defendant Giuliani and his co-conspirators’ conduct,” their attorneys wrote.

The pair will also ask the jury “to award punitive damages against Defendant Giuliani as a punishment for his outrageous conduct and to deter him and others from engaging in that kind of conduct, in an amount to be determined by the jury, including based on the relevant legal factors and adverse inferences entered in this case,” according to their attorneys.

“The only issue remaining in this trial will be for a jury to determine how much Defendant Giuliani owes to Plaintiffs for the damage his conduct caused,” their attorneys wrote.

Freeman and Moss previously recounted to the Jan. 6 committee how their lives changed forever when they were targeted by Trump and his supporters due to debunked conspiracy theories.

“There is nowhere I feel safe,” Freeman said during taped testimony. “Nowhere.”