This post has been updated to clarify the punitive damages issue.
A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that former Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani – who has been delaying trial by refusing to turn in discovery — forfeits the defamation lawsuit that was brought against him by two Georgia election workers who alleged he spread conspiracy theories about them.
In a 57-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell found Giuliani legally liable for defaming Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the mother-daughter duo, who were targeted and threatened due to conspiracy theories spread by Trump allies claiming they tampered with ballots during the 2020 election. Those false claims have been debunked and discredited.
In her lengthy opinion, Judge Howell said Giuliani violated orders to preserve and produce relevant evidence relating to the case.
“Just as taking shortcuts to win an election carries risks — even potential criminal liability — bypassing the discovery process carries serious sanctions,” Howell wrote.
“Given the willful shirking of his discovery obligations in anticipation of and during this litigation, Giuliani leaves little other choice,” the judge added. “Default judgment will be entered against Giuliani … holding him civilly liable on plaintiffs’ defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and punitive damage claims, and Giuliani is directed to reimburse plaintiffs for attorneys’ fees and costs associated with their instant motion.”
It’s unclear how much money in total the duo will seek for direct compensation — for the damage to their reputations and other harms they say they faced — as well as punitive damages, which Giuliani will face for not turning over relevant evidence to Freeman and Moss in a timely manner. Giuliani has already been sanctioned almost $90,000 for Freeman and Moss’ attorneys’ fees.
A jury will determine the exact amount of damages in a trial, which is expected to be scheduled for later this year or early 2024, according to Judge Howell.
Howell also indicated in her ruling that she thought it was possible that the former New York mayor decided not to fulfill his obligations for the lawsuit because he wanted to avoid releasing information to lawyers involved in other cases he is facing.
Giuliani is one of the 18 co-defendants, alongside the former president, charged in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ indictment focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. In that case, Giuliani is accused of spearheading Trump’s efforts to influence state lawmakers to ignore the results and illegally appoint electoral college electors favoring Trump. He has been charged on 13 counts, including making false statements, conspiring to create phony paperwork, conspiring to impersonate a public officer and soliciting state lawmakers to violate their oath of office. Freeman is also mentioned, more than 30 times, in the indictment as Willis detailed the ways in which Trump allies tried to influence her testimony.
Giuliani is also reported to be one of six unnamed co-conspirators mentioned in special counsel Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 indictment against Trump. He has not been charged in that case.
“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 suggested that Giuliani’s complaints about the legal demands he is facing are not genuine and used for political reasons.
“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 wrote. “The fact that Giuliani is a sophisticated litigant with a self-professed 50 years of experience in litigation — including serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — only underscores his lackluster preservation efforts.”
Read the ruling here: