ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge on Monday declined to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed against former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani by two women who served as election workers in Georgia in November 2020.
In the lawsuit filed last December, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss accused Giuliani of defaming them by falsely stating that the pair had engaged in election fraud while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The lawsuit says Giuliani repeatedly pushed debunked claims that the mother-and-daughter pair pulled out suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of fraud to try to alter the outcome of the presidential election in Georgia.
In an opinion accompanying Monday's order, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell in Washington described the situation that followed the November 2020 election, when the vote totals in several key states were so close that the results were not immediately clear.
“As election workers across the state worked long hours carefully ensuring the accuracy of the election, the Trump Campaign and its allies, including Giuliani, engaged in a media offensive that at best questioned, and at worse condemned, their work,” Howell wrote.
Moss had worked for the Fulton County elections department since 2012 and supervised the absentee ballot operation during the 2020 election. Freeman, her mother, was a temporary election worker, verifying signatures on absentee ballots and preparing them to be counted and processed.
As the false allegations about them circulated online, the two women said, they suffered intense harassment, both in person and online. Moss detailed her experiences in emotional testimony before the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee also played video testimony from Freeman during the hearing in June.
Moss, who is Black, said she received messages “wishing death upon me. Telling me that I’ll be in jail with my mother. And saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.’”
“A lot of them were racist,” Moss said. “A lot of them were just hateful.”
In a court filing in June, Giuliani argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the claims against him are inadequately pleaded and are barred by First Amendment protections for free speech. Howell rejected those arguments, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.
“Despite the repeated debunking of the Trump Campaign’s claims of voter fraud in the election in Georgia by state officials and private organizations, Giuliani persisted in pushing those very claims — and began taking direct aim at plaintiffs in the process," Howell wrote.
A lawyer representing Giuliani in the defamation lawsuit did not immediately respond Monday to an email seeking comment on the ruling.
“Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman served their community and their country. In return, Rudy Giuliani and his allies — and others — told vicious lies that turned their lives upside down,” one of their lawyers, Von Dubose, said in a news release.
Giuliani's spreading of debunked claims about Freeman and Moss has also caught the attention of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who's investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to influence Georgia's 2020 election. Willis has told Giuliani's lawyers he could face criminal charges in that investigation.
The defamation lawsuit originally named right-wing cable news channel One America News Network, its owners and its chief White House correspondent for also pushing the debunked claims. They were dismissed from the suit in May after reaching an undisclosed settlement with Moss and Freeman.
The two women also have filed a separate defamation lawsuit against The Gateway Pundit, its owner Jim Hoft and his brother Joe Hoft, a contributor to the conservative website. That lawsuit is pending in Missouri.