(NEW YORK) — A federal judge on Wednesday awarded a default judgment to a pair of Georgia election workers as part of their civil defamation suit against former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who also faces separate criminal charges in Fulton County.
The mother-daughter tandem of Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss are suing the former New York City mayor for defamation over erroneous remarks he made accusing the pair of fraudulently manipulating ballots on Election Day 2020 in Georgia.
In the days after the election, Freeman and Moss became the subjects of a Trump-backed conspiracy theory that was later found to be “false and unsubstantiated,” according to an investigation by the Georgia Elections Board. Giuliani, in an appearance before a committee of the Georgia state legislature, told lawmakers that a video circulating online showed “Ruby Freeman and Shaye Freeman Moss … quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports, as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine.”
For months, Giuliani has rebuffed the pair’s efforts to obtain relevant discovery materials in the case. As a result, U.S. Judge Beryl Howell found Giuliani on Wednesday liable for his defamatory remarks, levelled harsh sanctions against him — including the default judgment — and ordered a trial to determine the complete scope of damages.
“Giuliani has given only lip service to compliance with his discovery obligations … and thwarted plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss’ procedural rights to obtain any meaningful discovery in this case,” Howell wrote.
Howell, in her 57-page opinion, accused Giuliani of skirting discovery rules under the guise of what he called “punishment by process” — seeking to frame himself as a victim of unfair persecution.
“Donning a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage to certain audiences,” Howell wrote, “but in a court of law this performance has served only to subvert the normal process of discovery.”
Giuliani has previously stated that he “does not contest the factual allegations” made by Freeman and Moss regarding his statements, but that his statements were “constitutionally protected.”
On Wednesday, Howell wrote that “Giuliani’s stipulations hold more holes than Swiss cheese” and “make clear his goal to bypass the discovery process.”
Howell speculated that Giuliani’s efforts to withhold discovery in this matter could reflect a strategy meant to quell his growing legal exposure in other cases — including the criminal charges he now faces in Fulton County, where he and 18 others were charged earlier this month in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state.
“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.”
Freeman and Moss, in a statement, lauded the ruling.
“Rudy Giuliani helped unleash a wave of hatred and threats we never could have imagined,” their statement said. “It cost us our sense of security and our freedom to go about our lives. Nothing can restore all we lost, but today’s ruling is yet another neutral finding that has confirmed what we have known all along: that there was never any truth to any of the accusations about us and that we did nothing wrong. We were smeared for purely political reasons, and the people responsible can and should be held accountable.”
Giuliani political adviser Ted Goodman, in response to the ruling, said, “This 57 page opinion on discovery — which would usually be no more than two or three pages — is a prime example of the weaponization of the justice system, where the process is the punishment. This decision should be reversed.”
Judge Howell asked the parties to file briefs on next steps in the case, and wrote that a trial to determine the full scope of damages will take place later this year or early next.
As an additional sanction, at trial, “the jury will be instructed that they must, when determining an appropriate sum of punitive damages, infer that Giuliani is intentionally trying to hide relevant discovery about his financial assets for the purpose of artificially deflating his net worth,” Howell added.
Last year Freeman told ABC News’ Terry Moran that she subsequently received so much harassment from conspiracy theorists that for a time she was forced to temporarily leave the suburban Atlanta home where she had lived for 20 years.
Trump, who was not sued in this case, has also made disparaging comments about Freeman.
The pair gave similar testimony when they appeared before the House selection committee investigating the events of Jan. 6.
ABC News’ Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.