Watch CBS News

Rudy Giuliani must pay $148 million to 2 Georgia election workers he defamed, jury decides

Giuliani ordered to pay $148 million for defamation
Jury orders Rudy Giuliani to pay $148 million in defamation case 02:49

Washington — A federal jury on Friday ordered former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to pay a total of $148 million to two former Georgia election workers who were at the center of baseless claims he spread in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, a stunning award worth nearly $100 million more than the women had sought.

The jury of eight Washington, D.C., residents deliberated for roughly 10 hours across Thursday and Friday before reaching a decision. Jurors heard four days of emotional testimony in the civil trial against Giuliani, who served as former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer toward the end of his presidency.

The case was brought by Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss, her daughter, who sued Giuliani for falsely claiming they engaged in a fake ballot processing scheme while they served as election workers for Fulton County in the last presidential election. 

A federal judge in Washington determined earlier this year that Giuliani was liable for defaming Freeman and Moss, and the jury was tasked with determining how much in compensatory and punitive damages to award the mother-and-daughter pair. Freeman sought compensatory damages of $23.9 million for defamation, while Moss was asking for $24.7 million.

The jury awarded the following:

  • $16,171,000 to Freeman in compensatory damages for defamation;
  • $16,998,000 for Moss in compensatory damages for defamation;
  • $20 million each, or $40 million total, in compensatory damages for emotional distress;
  • $75 million in punitive damages for both

Giuliani remained defiant after the verdict was read in court. Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, he said the threats the women received in the wake of the election were "abominable" and "deplorable" but continued to stand by his baseless claims of voter fraud and vowed to appeal the ruling.

"The absurdity of the number merely underscores the absurdity of the entire proceeding," Giuliani said. "I'm quite confident that when this case gets before a fair tribunal, it will be reversed so quickly it'll make your head spin, and the absurd number that just came in will help that."

Giuliani's net worth and assets have fluctuated over the years, but they were currently believed to be less than the $48.6 million the women were seeking, based on a comment from his attorney earlier in the week. Joe Sibley told the jury that an award of that amount would be the "civil equivalent of the death penalty" for his client.

The Giuliani defamation trial

Rudy Giuliani speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023.
Rudy Giuliani speaks to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. Jose Luis Magana / AP

Throughout the trial, the jurors heard directly from Freeman and Moss as they described the terror they felt after they were thrust into the public eye after the 2020 election. 

Moss said Tuesday that the absentee ballot processing team that she oversaw — which included her mother — did a "perfect job" examining the votes that came into their facility, State Farm Arena in Atlanta, during the election. The mother and daughter both said their lives changed when a conservative website and Giuliani identified them in security camera footage of the ballot processing facility and falsely tied them to voter fraud.

Giuliani claimed the video showed Freeman and Moss adding fake ballots to the vote count in Joe Biden's favor and inserting a USB drive into election machines. What followed, according to Freeman and Moss, was a barrage of racist threats. An investigation by the Georgia secretary of state later concluded that "[a]ll allegations made against Freeman and Moss were unsubstantiated and found to have no merit."

"Every single aspect of my life has changed," Moss said. "I'm most scared of my son finding me or my mom hanging in front of our house."

Freeman, through tears, testified Wednesday about the hate-filled calls, emails, texts and letters she and her small business received after being targeted online.

"I took it as they were gonna cut me up, put me in a trash bag and take me out to my street," she said of one note she received. "I felt as if I was terrorized."

"Ruby Freeman, I hope the Federal Government hangs you and your daughter from the Capitol dome you treasonous piece of s***! I pray that I will be sitting close enough to hear your necks snap," one individual wrote to Freeman in a message to her business. 

Moss was passed up for a promotion and missed out on another job, while Freeman had to close her business and sell her house. The pair testified that they felt as if they lost their identities.

Fulton County election workers speak out after being awarded millions in damages in Giuliani case 09:41

Giuliani had indicated that he would testify in his defense and said outside of court in recent days that he was in no way connected to the violent threats. He ultimately chose not to take the stand on Thursday, the final day of testimony. He continued to make false claims about the pair, despite his acknowledgment earlier in the case that he made untrue statements about them.

"Everything I said about them is true," Giuliani told reporters on Monday. "They were engaged in changing the votes." Jurors saw a recording of those new claims during the trial. 

Judge Beryl Howell, who oversaw the case and ruled in August that Giuliani defamed Freeman and Moss, expressed concerns about the comments, as did Sibley, Giuliani's defense attorney.

Sibley did not call any witnesses of his own during the trial and told the jury he was not contesting the harm the mother and daughter endured because of his client's behavior. Instead, he opted to focus on the expert witnesses the plaintiffs called to calculate the millions requested in damages, and highlighted other media outlets and personalities who also spread the lies. 

"Rudy Giuliani is a good man ... he hasn't exactly helped himself" in recent days, the defense attorney said during closing arguments Thursday. "Rudy Giuliani shouldn't be defined by what's happened in recent times."

The attorney placed blame for the initial harm Freeman and Moss suffered at the feet of the first website to identify them, the Gateway Pundit, and showed the jury a lawsuit the pair has filed against the outlet. 

"That's how the names got out. That's how everyone knew who they were," Sibley argued.

The pair's attorneys, however, contended that injecting the conspiracy theories into media accounts was part of the Trump legal team's plan.

On Wednesday, Freeman talked about a post-election communications strategy from Giuliani's team that said she would become a key component used to cast doubt on the 2020 election. The communications plan referenced the video of Freeman at the Fulton County ballot counting center and said she was engaging in "ballot stuffing." 

"This was a plan from the beginning, that if … No. 45 didn't win, that they had already set this plan up," she said of Trump, the 45th president, and his allies. She said that, according to the plan, she would be their "culprit."

The jurors were instructed to consider any damages caused by Giuliani's co-conspirators in the defamation campaign, including Trump and other allies. Under direct examination, Freeman recalled she heard Trump identify her on a call with Georgia's secretary of state in January 2021. In that conversation, the former president called her a "professional vote scammer."

"How mean. How evil. I just was devastated," Freeman said. "He had no clue what he was talking about." 

One of the two experts called by the plaintiffs testified that Giuliani and his co-conspirators' lies about Freeman and Moss were seen millions of times online, warranting a campaign to restore their reputation that would cost millions of dollars. Giuliani's attorney, however, argued for lesser compensation, arguing that such an effort would likely be useless, since the people who believed Giuliani's lies would believe them "no matter what."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.