By Andrew Goudsward
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Donald Trump's former lawyer Rudy Giuliani is liable for defaming two Georgia election workers who were the target of vote-rigging conspiracy accusations following the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a U.S. judge in Washington ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell issued the order as a sanction against Giuliani for failing to turn over electronic records sought by the two Fulton County election workers, Wandrea "Shaye" Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, in the case.
Howell found that Giuliani refused to comply with a process for producing records, known as discovery, and rejected the former New York mayor's argument that the election workers used the lawsuit to harass him.
"Donning a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage to certain audiences, but in a court of law this performance has served only to subvert the normal process of discovery in a straight-forward defamation case," Howell wrote in her order.
Giuliani argued in court filings that he had sought to turn over records, but faced several obstacles, including having his phone seized by federal agents in 2021.
Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, called the ruling a "prime example of the weaponization of the justice system, where the process is the punishment."
Giuliani is also facing criminal charges in Georgia's Fulton County for allegedly aiding Republican then-President Trump's effort to overturn his election loss in the state, including by making false claims about Moss and Freeman. Giuliani has called that indictment a "travesty."
The judge's order means Giuliani will have to pay damages for spreading false claims that Moss and Freeman secretly processed and counted batches of illegal ballots at a Georgia arena used to tabulate votes following the 2020 election. The pair said they received death threats and harassment after Giuliani identified them by name and likened them to drug dealers.
Freeman and Moss said in a statement that the ruling confirms that "there was never any truth to any of the accusations about us."
Giuliani previously admitted that his statements were false and damaged Moss and Freeman's reputations, but left open the possibility of challenging the claims on appeal.
Giuliani will now face a civil trial in federal court in Washington to determine how much he will have to pay.
Moss and Freeman settled defamation claims against far-right news outlet One America News Network last year.
(Reporting by Katharine Jackson and Andrew Goudsward in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New YorkEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)