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Jury will decide amount Giuliani will pay to 2 Georgia election workers for defamation

A jury was seated Monday to decide what kind of punitive damages Rudy Giuliani, left, the former lawyer for former President Donald Trump, should pay in a civil case brought by two Georgia election workers who accused him of defamation.
Kevin Dietsch
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A jury was seated Monday to decide what kind of punitive damages Rudy Giuliani, left, the former lawyer for former President Donald Trump, should pay in a civil case brought by two Georgia election workers who accused him of defamation.

How much should it cost to defame two innocent citizens in the service of a dangerous fallacy that sought to undermine a U.S. presidential election?

That's the question jurors are set to answer in the defamation and conspiracy trial of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Jury selection took place on Monday in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

This phase of the civil case centers on the penalty. District Judge Beryl Howell has already found Giuliani liable for defamation and civil conspiracy for repeatedly making false statements about two Georgia election workers: Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, who are also mother and daughter.

Giuliani also admitted over the summer that, while working on behalf of former President Donald Trump, he spread lies about Freeman and Moss. He had previously said the women were caught on video pulling out "suitcases" of pro-Biden ballots. State and federal inquiries concluded there was no truth to the allegations, which Giuliani and his allies kept repeating.

Freeman and Moss say Giuliani inflicted emotional harm, damaged their reputations, and exposed them to death threats. They're seeking tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages.

Here's a quick recap of where the case stands:

What happened on Monday?

Jury selection began Monday morning. Judge Howell ordered Giuliani, Freeman and Moss to appear in person in Courtroom 26A inside the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse.

A jury was seated early Monday afternoon, according to reporters who were in the courtroom. Under federal law, a civil case requires a unanimous verdict from at least six jurors. Howell set a goal of putting eight people on the jury as a precaution, to allow for possible illness and other issues.

Lawyers in the case were expected to deliver opening statements on Monday, after the jury was sworn in and received their instructions. Lawyers have previously said they'll need about a week to present their evidence. But the court is also warning potential jurors that the proceeding could spread into a second week.

The plaintiffs and defendant are to be "present in person for the duration of trial," Howell wrote in a court document.

What did the judge find Giuliani liable of?

Giuliani called out Freeman and Moss by name, accusing them — without evidence — of election fraud while working for the Fulton County Board of Elections to tally the 2020 vote at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Judge Howell said that Giuliani publicly and falsely accused the women of "illegally excluding poll watchers under false pretenses; sneaking in and hiding illegal ballots in suitcases under tables; illegally counting ballots multiple times; and passing a USB drive with the intent of changing the vote count in the voting tabulation devices."

Giuliani's attack on the women's credibility was wide-ranging, saying they were "surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine." Moss later testified that the object was actually a ginger mint her mother gave her.

Howell has already ordered Giuliani to pay more than $200,000 in attorneys' fees related to his failure to turn over financial records and other documents in the discovery process.

The defamation case and numerous other legal troubles are the latest in what has been a sinking arc in Giuliani's public career. The former New York City mayor and Time magazine "Person of the Year" was also once a highly touted federal prosecutor, securing 4,152 convictions with only 25 reversals, according to his official bio.

As a prosecutor, Giuliani made frequent use of racketeering law as he pursued convictions. He's now charged on state racketeering charges in Georgia, as part of the sweeping election interference indictment there.

How far does the case extend?

In a joint court filing last month, Giuliani agreed with the plaintiffs that they had been targeted as part of a conspiracy, as Trump sought to overturn his loss of the presidency to Joe Biden.

"To the extent it would help the court's resolution of this issue," the two sides said in their joint statement, "the parties are in agreement that the following individuals or entities were members of the conspiracy: Donald J. Trump, Christina Bobb, and Herring Networks, Inc., d/b/a One America News Network ('OAN'); Robert Herring; Charles Herring; and Chanel Rion."

Last year, the conservative cable channel One America News Network, which agreed to settle their part of the lawsuit, leaving Giuliani as the main defendant.

Last month, attorneys for Freeman and Moss filed a 30-page list of exhibits they might use during the trial, including voicemails left on a phone used by Moss's son, a minor at the time, that threatened death by hanging and fire. Also included are Giuliani's numerous comments about the pair and Trump's phone call with Georgia officials in which he asked them to "find" enough ballots to tilt the state in his favor.

When jurors consider the penalty Giuliani should pay, they will do so in a building that sits just one block away from the Capitol complex where Trump's supporters mounted a violent attack on Congress, seeking to block lawmakers from certifying the 2020 election results.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.