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Jury hears attacks on Ga. election workers in Giuliani defamation trial

Rudy Giuliani speaks to the media after leaving the Fulton County jail on Aug. 23 in Atlanta.  (Joe Raedle)
By Spencer S. Hsu and Tom Jackman Washington Post

The attacks and threats against two Georgia election workers after Rudy Giuliani baselessly accused them of tampering with the 2020 elections results were swift, racist and vicious, attorneys for the women said Monday in opening statements at defamation trial for the former New York mayor.

Callers told Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Arshaye “Shaye” Moss that they were traitors, that they deserved to be hanged from trees, and hanged at the United States Capitol close enough to the public “for people to hear their necks snap,” said attorney Von A. DuBose, who like the plaintiffs is Black. “

“Your name is the most important thing you own,” DuBose added, “You will hear how Mr. Giuliani and his co-conspirators stole the lives of Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss by destroying their names.”

Attorneys for Freeman and Moss played recordings of some of the messages for the jury in U.S. District Court in D.C., where Giuliani could be held liable for up to $43.5 million in damages to the mother and daughter who sued for defamation.

In the lawsuit, Freeman and Moss said they received death threats and were forced into hiding after he repeatedly claimed in the weeks after the 2020 election that misleading security video footage showed them bringing in “suitcases” full of fake votes for Joe Biden. Those claims were quickly debunked by election officials in Georgia, who explained that the so-called suitcases were regular ballot boxes and that nothing untoward had occurred at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Giuliani sat throughout the morning a dozen feet away from the plaintiffs at separate tables in the courtroom. The jury of eight selected Monday will only decide how much he should pay in damages for violent threats and harassment the pair received, after a judge earlier found him liable for more than a dozen defamatory statements against them.

Giuliani’s lawyer, Joseph A. Sibley IV, said in his opening statement, “There’s no question these claimants were harmed. They didn’t deserve what happened to them. But what happened to them happened because of a controversy involving a lot of people, not just Rudy Giuliani.”

He said Giuliani did not make any of the threatening phone calls or messages, and the jury must determine whether he was the proximate cause of those threats.

Sibley said that the amount of damages being sought by Freeman and Moss “really should fit the crime. What the plaintiffs’ counsel are asking for here is the signal equivalent of the death penalty. What they are asking for will be the end of Mr. Giuliani. I want you to come back with an award that’s fair, appropriate and just.”

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell previously ordered Giuliani to pay the women $230,000 in legal fees and sanctions for failing to turn over relevant information. She said those failures, combined with Giuliani’s own admissions, compelled her to rule without a trial that he defamed both women, intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them as part of a civil conspiracy, and owes punitive damages.

“The only issue remaining in this trial is for the jury to determine any amount of damages Mr. Giuliani owes to Plaintiffs for the damage caused by his conduct,” Howell said in jury instructions. That conduct, the judge said, includes his willfully false accusations that the two workers committed election fraud by making statements that they illegally excluded poll watchers, snuck in and hid illegal ballots in suitcases under tables and illegally counted ballots multiple times.

Attorney Michael J. Gottlieb said the plaintiffs would present evidence to support their request for “tens of millions of dollars” in damages after their names became for millions of Americans “synonymous with crimes, cheating and fraud,”

Gottlieb asked jurors to send a message that “in the United States of America, behavior like Rudy Giuliani’s is not the inevitable result of politics. It is not acceptable, and it will not be tolerated.”

The two women were election workers, but Gottlieb told the jury of federal workers and contractors that Giuliani’s victims could just as well have been police officers, firefighters, or teachers, after he branded “volunteers and civil servants as fraudsters and criminals,” then directed supporters to go to their homes in a “campaign of defamation and emotional terror.”

Freeman and Moss are expected to testify in the case, and the defense has signaled Giuliani could take the witness stand in his defense.

The showdown between Giuliani and the two temporary poll workers he baselessly accused of ballot tampering in 2020 will highlight a major court battle over false claims that became central to former president Donald Trump’s efforts to stay in power and is now at the heart of two criminal cases against him.

In court filings, attorneys for the Georgia workers hint they might put on new evidence about the scope of the alleged conspiracy between Giuliani, Trump, and participants with his legal and campaign teams. According to state prosecutors in Georgia, three Trump supporters tried to pressure Freeman into going along with the false claims, including by showing up at her home.

The prospect of a humbling or debilitating financial judgment is only the latest legal risk for Giuliani. He faces state prosecution in Georgia, in part for his dissemination of the false claims about Freeman and Moss. He’s also considered an unindicted co-conspirator in Trump’s indictment on federal charges for obstruction of the 2020 election. He and one of his lawyers are being sued by Hunter Biden for allegedly mishandling the presidential son’s laptop, and that lawyer is accusing Giuliani of not paying legal bills. Giuliani also faces suit from a former employee accusing him of wage theft and sexual harassment.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty in the Georgia criminal cases, and denied all claims of wrongdoing in all cases.

Trump hosted a $100,000-per-person fundraiser for Giuliani in September, and spoke of his former attorney during a speech at the New York Young Republican Club’s annual gala Saturday night, saying the city was “safe” and “prosperous” during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor of New York and asserting that “judges didn’t have the courage to do what they should have done.”

“Rudy is a warrior, he’s a brave guy, he’s a brilliant man and he’s been our friend and there’s nobody like him, really,” Trump said. “When I see what’s happened to the city in such a short period of time, it’s very sad.”

In his opening statement on behalf of Freeman and Moss, DuBose played multiple recordings of voice mails for the jury.

“You’re going to jail, Ruby,” one man said. “You’re going to get locked up, Ruby.”

“I hope you like jail because that’s where you’re going on your way to hell,” one woman’s message said.

One woman called and simply sang the n-word 11 times. Strange people began to show up at their houses, DuBose said. He said Moss was rejected for jobs, and Freeman had to leave her home and change the name of her business.

DuBose then played clips of Giuliani focusing on Freeman and Moss on television, on his YouTube show and in numerous tweets.

“She now lives in fear for her life,” DuBose said of Freeman.

DuBose also said he would show the jury a strategic plan that Giuliani wrote in December 2020, which labeled Freeman and Moss criminals, and that he presented to President Donald Trump later that month.

The jury of five women and three men includes a U.S. Forest Service worker, Defense Intelligence Agency cost analyst, Postal Service contractor, and current and former employees of a technology start up company, a law firm and national trade and professional associations, and a part-time hempseed seller.