Guiliani Ordered to Pay $148 Million

A Pyrrhic victory in one of many cases against America's mayor.

“Rudy Giuliani” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

NYT (“Jury Orders Giuliani to Pay $148 Million to Election Workers He Defamed“):

A jury on Friday ordered Rudolph W. Giuliani to pay $148 million to two former Georgia election workers who said he had destroyed their reputations with lies that they tried to steal the 2020 election from Donald J. Trump.

Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington had already ruled that Mr. Giuliani had defamed the two workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. The jury had been asked to decide only on the amount of the damages.

The jury awarded Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss a combined $75 million in punitive damages. It also ordered Mr. Giuliani to pay compensatory damages of $16.2 million to Ms. Freeman and $16.9 million to Ms. Moss, as well as $20 million to each of them for emotional suffering.

“Today’s a good day,” Ms. Freeman told reporters after the jury delivered its determination. But she added that no amount of money would give her and her daughter back what they lost in the abuse they suffered after Mr. Giuliani falsely accused them of manipulating the vote count.

Mr. Giuliani, who helped lead Mr. Trump’s effort to remain in office after his defeat in the 2020 election but has endured a string of legal and financial setbacks since then, was defiant after the proceeding.

“I don’t regret a damn thing,” he said outside the courthouse, suggesting that he would appeal and that he stood by his assertions about the two women.

He said that the torrent of attacks and threats the women received from Trump supporters were “abominable” and “deplorable,” but that he was not responsible for them.

His lawyer, Joseph Sibley IV, had also argued that Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and federal prosecutor, should not be held responsible for abuse directed to Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss by others.

Mr. Sibley had warned that an award of the scale being sought by the women would be the civil equivalent of the death penalty for his client. Outside the courthouse on Friday, Mr. Giuliani called the amount “absurd.”

While I have zero sympathy for Giuliani and others who tried to steal the election and agree the he defamed the plaintiffs, both the amount of the damages and, especially, the idea he is solely responsible for the do strike me as absurd. He’s being used as a proxy for harms almost entirely caused by others.

NPR (“Giuliani is ordered to pay $148 million to Georgia election workers he defamed“) adds:

In the time after voting ended in 2020, Giuliani shared video from an absentee ballot counting facility in Fulton County, which he falsely claimed showed the two women cheating and scanning ballots multiple times to benefit Joe Biden.

A hand-count audit in Georgia found votes to have been tallied correctly in the 2020 election, and a years-long investigation by the Georgia secretary of state’s office found the accusations against Moss and Freeman to be “false and unsubstantiated.”

“There was no evidence that suggested they did anything wrong, except show up for work and work hard,” testified Frank Braun, who oversaw the investigation for the secretary of state’s office.

In August, district Judge Beryl Howell found Giuliani liable for defamation, due to his lack of cooperation in the case, and Giuliani conceded as part of the proceedings that his statements about Moss and Freeman were false.

So the trial this week was only held to determine the damages Moss and Freeman were owed.

Clearly, Giuliani is partly being punished for his lack of cooperation in the trial—as he should be. But his action here seems limited to a vague tweet.

Throughout the week-long civil trial, attorneys for Moss and Freeman enumerated the wide reach of election lies and the many ways those lies ruined the lives of the two women. An expert witness specializing in marketing and social media estimated that the relevant falsehoods reached tens of millions of people, and that a strategic communications campaign to repair the women’s reputations could cost as much as $47.4 million.

But somehow he’s being held civilly liable for all of the election lies? And the private actions of people who took it upon themselves to harass these two women?

From the NYT account:

Lawyers for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss had asked the jury to send a message when deciding what Mr. Giuliani should pay.

“Send it to Mr. Giuliani,” one of the lawyers, Michael J. Gottlieb, said in his closing argument on Thursday. “Send it to any other powerful figure with a platform and an audience who is considering whether they will take the chance to seek profit and fame by assassinating the moral character of ordinary people.”

I’ve seen this tactic in criminal trials, with the defendant as a stand-in for all crime in the community, and dislike it then. It’s even weirder when determining civil liability for damages.

Of course, this is mostly academic in that Giuliani almost certainly lacks the ability to pay anything like this amount. Indeed, even his own lawyers have struggled to collect their fees.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott says:

    Sandy Hook families are still fighting even after winning.

    Sandy Hook families offer to settle Alex Jones’ $1.5 billion legal debt for at least $85 million

    Sandy Hook families who won nearly $1.5 billion in legal judgments against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for calling the 2012 Connecticut school shooting a hoax have offered to settle that debt for only pennies on the dollar — at least $85 million over 10 years.

    The offer was made in Jones’ personal bankruptcy case in Houston last week. In a legal filing, lawyers for the families said they believed the proposal was a viable way to help resolve the bankruptcy reorganization cases of both Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.

    But in the sharply worded document, the attorneys continued to accuse the Infowars host of failing to curb his personal spending and “extravagant lifestyle,” failing to preserve the value of his holdings, refusing to sell assets and failing to produce certain financial documents.

  2. Kathy says:

    IMO, the purpose of punitive damages is self-explanatory.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    But somehow he’s being held civilly liable for all of the election lies?

    That’s how torts have always worked: you’re either full responsibile for the damages or not responsible at all.

  4. steve says:

    What I think you are missing is that Giuliani holds a special place on the right. He was the one who found the laptop. He was the president’s lawyer. He is perceived as a truth teller fighting the leftists who every election since at least 2000 have won elections due to fraud. So when he claimed these 2 people were frauds people believed him. The only higher authority would be to hear it directly from Trump and most of Trump’s followers would believe that if Giuliani says it then it means Trump also believes it. All through history leaders seldom killed the innocents directly themselves, but it was their words and actions that lead to their followers doing the killing. In this case the killing just hasn’t happened, yet.


  5. gVOR10 says:

    While I think the flaws and absurdities in our legal system are legion, I will feel no sympathy for Giuliani because of them.

    Giuliani was a fraud when he was “America’s Mayor”. Now it’s caught up with him.

  6. DMA says:

    James’ distaste here is part and parcel of the so-called “reasonable conservative” way of operating. They’ll always say, sure, something can/should be done, but this is the wrong way to do it. Every single time, it just isn’t the proper way to hold the right accountable. (E.g. sure people have a right to protest, but the way they did it is wrong (e.g. Dixie Chicks, the cast of Hamilton, any other time someone protests the right wing).) Here we see that, sure, Giuliani should be held accountable, but this is the wrong way to do it. Every single time.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: But this isn’t, say, a car accident where there are only two parties involved. Here, most of the harm was done by people other than Giuliani.

    @steve: @DMA: As noted in the OP, I think Giuliani clearly defamed these women and should pay damages. I just think the amount is absurd, not only because it’s wildly disproportionate to the actual harm inflicted but because Giuliani played a very small part in causing the harm.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I just think the amount is absurd, not only because it’s wildly disproportionate to the actual harm inflicted but because Giuliani played a very small part in causing the harm

    1. It’s not supposed to be proportionate; it’s supposed to be punitive. Because:
    2. The court disagrees with you strongly with respect to Giuliani’s role.

    (…and I’m pretty sure that anyone who knows Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss would disagree with you about the magnitude of the “actual harm inflicted”.)

  9. gVOR10 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Here, most of the harm was done by people other than Giuliani.

    I think I heard one of the poll workers say last night they’re going to go after others. I hope each of the others is held individually resposible for all the damage, plus punitive damages, plus a rap on the knuckles for just being generally arse holes. Republicans have a nasty habit of going after low level officials and nobodies and ruining their lives. Top of the head I’m thinking about the Black lady in the Ag Department Obama unfairly dismissed because GOPs misrepresented a speech and the IRS lady who didn’t actually selectively prosecute conservative non-profits, plus dozens of school teachers, librarians, and others who only briefly popped up in the news if at all. “Cancel culture” is really a Republican thing.

    Our laibility law is a shitty system, but it’s all we’ve got. And it’s not like they’re going to get anything like 148 million. Maybe these judgement amounts would be more reasonable if judges and juries didn’t know they’re fiction.

  10. Kevin says:

    Also, it must be added, that Giuliani tried to pull all sorts of shenanigans in the court case. It wasn’t that he didn’t cooperate, it’s that he submitted these incredibly bizarre filings where he admitted he defamed them for the purpose of avoiding depositions/discovery, but not for the purpose of admitting guilt, which is . . . not a thing. And he’s a lawyer. Courts tend not to respond well to such behavior.

  11. Grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: If Giuliani hadn’t been the person who made up the accusations (without checking on their validity) and then kept loudly insisting that it was true, would Gateway Pundit have disseminated these accusations so many times?

    I think we can use a “there but for…” analysis in this case when looking at the damages. Giuliani should have known that there was a full-scale far-right ecosystem out there eager to pick up whatever he said and propagate it.

    (I’ve noticed that Gateway Pundit is trying to backtrack by saying “no one reasonable would have believed what we were putting out, so we’re not responsible for any related damages.” Sorry, guys. You don’t get to attempt stochastic terrorism and then backtrack when something actually happens and claim you didn’t mean any of it.)

  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Here, most of the harm was done by people other than Giuliani.

    Then I guess he should have argued that in court instead of the “it wasn’t defamation because Freeze Peach” defense he chose.

  13. Tony W says:

    Something about lying down with dogs and having fleas….

  14. DK says:

    @James Joyner:

    I just think the amount is absurd, not only because it’s wildly disproportionate to the actual harm inflicted but because Giuliani played a very small part in causing the harm.

    Nah. Giuliani used his wildly disproportionate power and influence to help destroy the lives of innocents — resulting in three years of racist bile, bullying and death threats directed their way. At the behest of the world’s most powerful man, Giuliani maliciously placed these women and their families at risk of physical harm along with undeserved fear, anxiety, anguish, and extraordinary self-protection measures.

    If this were happening to any of us (and our spouses and children and neighbors etc), what monetary amount would constitute an appropriate remedy? To quote Tina Fey: “The limit does not exist.”

    If Giuliani helped subject my loved ones to this kind of stress and danger, $1 billion in punitive damages + 1 million punches to his nasty face would still be too little.

    What Trump and his minions are doing to innocent people is not a prank or joke. Their selfish dishonesty has put many everyday citizens in the line of fire. The court’s officers were right to consider what it would feel like to have their lives upended by three years of death threats + having their name dragged through the mud. The jury sent a deterrent warning, and good on them.

    The involvement of others does not absolve Giuliani of liability for his actions.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Clearly, Giuliani is partly being punished for his lack of cooperation in the trial—as he should be. But his action here seems limited to a vague tweet.

    C’mon James, there was nothing vague in what he said and nothing vague in the tampered video he put out. And he didn’t stop with that. He’s been repeating his lies time and again all the way thru pre-trial, the trial itself, and did it again after being found liable. Don’t be so myopic.

    But somehow he’s being held civilly liable for all of the election lies?

    No James, not all of the election lies, just the ones he promulgated. The Gateway Pundit’s turn in the fish barrel is coming soon (already filed) and others will face the piper in their own turn.

    And the private actions of people who took it upon themselves to harass these two women?

    Are you speaking of all the cowardly fcks who made anonymous threats too numerous to count and inspired by Ghouliani and the GP and others of their ilk? Guess what, Rudy DOES bear some responsibility for their actions. He knew who he was talking to and how easily they could be manipulated into doing his dirty deeds for him.

    Did you learn nothing between 2016 and the end of 2020? Not to mention these past 3 years?

  16. dazedandconfused says:

    Images of one of the people next to Rudy in his last rant before the courthouse are causing a “buzz”, so to speak. Partially due to his facial expressions while watching Rudy speak, partially because of his haircut.

    He’s either a bodyguard with a ridiculously unprofessional demeanor or one of his legal team, but the style has been linked to the Proud Boys. The Mulnazi, business up front, skinhead party in the back. Perhaps he just lost a bet…

  17. JohnSF says:

    How you get a rude and a reckless?
    Don’t you be so crude and feckless
    You been drinking brew for breakfast
    Rudie can’t fail (no, no)

    I went to the market to realize my soul
    What I need I just don’t have (oh no)
    First they curse, then they press me ’til I hurt
    They say, Rudie can’t fail
    First you must cure your temper
    Then find a job in a paper
    You need someone for a savior
    Rudie can’t fail

    find “can’t” replace “can”

  18. steve says:

    James- He didnt play a small part, he played probably the most important part. He validated all of the bad claims about those two innocent people. Other than Trump who would have that much influence on this kind of issue on the right?


  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: As long as the judgement is merely symbolic and we realize that the two injured women are probably never going to collect even a dime of it, “The limit does not exist” is just fine. But the whole trial is just another circus at that point, too.

  20. Paul L. says:

    They should have demanded the surveillance video and chain of custody for the ballots from the box under the table and released all of it to the public.

    But like body cam video of police misconduct, FISA warrants or warrants that turned up zero evidence, no one has any standing to see that.

    Then I don’t have to believe Judge Beryl A. Howell , Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.