Rudy Giuliani “sealed his own fate” in a Georgia defamation suit that should have been his “case to lose,” according to constitutional lawyer Gerry Weber.
On Wednesday, Georgia Judge Beryl Howell ruled against the former New York City mayor in a civil defamation suit brought against him by mother-daughter state election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. Giuliani, acting in his capacity as a legal adviser to Donald Trump, previously made false claims that the pair had committed fraud during the 2020 election, making them two of the most prominent targets for the ire of the former president’s supporters.
Howell’s ruling against Giuliani was by a default judgment, as the judge found that he had failed to comply with a number of subpoenas, particularly those pertaining to the lawsuit’s discovery phase. The judge, in a 57-page opinion, called the discovery materials that he turned over insufficient. A jury will now decide how much Giuliani must pay to Freeman and Moss for his defamatory remarks. Additionally, Howell ordered Giuliani to pay Freeman and Moss’ legal fees and costs, which CNN reported could amount to thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
In an opinion column for MSNBC on Sunday, Weber, a constitutional law attorney and adjunct professor at Emory University School of Law, wrote that Giuliani effectively sealed his own fate by failing to adequately provide discovery materials. Had he responded to the subpoenas to the satisfaction of the court, he might have prevailed in the case, given the historically high burden of proof plaintiffs in defamation cases must meet, Weber added.
“But this was Giuliani’s case to lose,” Weber wrote. “Famously, defamation cases are hard for plaintiffs to win, and purposefully so. Since The New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964, the Supreme Court has set a high bar for plaintiffs in libel cases because the First Amendment requires ‘breathing space’ to citizens and the press.
He continued: “False statements are not always defamatory. For false statements about famous and powerful people, there must be ‘actual malice,’ meaning the speaker knows that they are false or makes them with “reckless disregard” for the truth. Freeman and Moss are not powerful folks, and for them the legal path is easier.”
Weber further noted that, in July, Giuliani’s legal team said in a filing that he did not contest the notion that his statements about Freeman and Moss were false. He did, however, attempt to argue that the pair had not suffered any damage as a result of his statements.
In her decision, Howell also accused Giuliani of destroying evidence relevant to the case. Weber wrote in his column that such actions directly risked being handed a default judgment, which he called “the nuclear bomb of consequences in any lawsuit.”
Newsweek attempted to reach representatives for Giuliani via email for comment.