Rudolph W. Giuliani’s lawyer told jurors on Monday that the tens of millions of dollars in damages two Georgia election workers are seeking from him in a defamation suit “will be the end of Mr. Giuliani,” likening an award of that scale to a civil death penalty.
The lawyer, Joseph Sibley IV, made the assertion in his opening statement on the first day of Mr. Giuliani’s civil trial in Federal District Court in Washington.
The judge, Beryl A. Howell, has already ruled that Mr. Giuliani, who served as personal lawyer to President Donald J. Trump and helped spearhead the efforts to keep Mr. Trump in office after his loss in the 2020 election, defamed the two workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.
Mr. Giuliani was found to have intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them and engaged in a conspiracy with others when he publicly accused them of election fraud related to their work counting absentee ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta for the Fulton County Board of Elections on Nov. 3, 2020.
A jury of eight will determine how much Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and a former federal prosecutor, should have to pay them for the harm he caused.
Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss are seeking compensatory damages between $15.5 million and $43 million. The trial is expected to last a week. Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss all plan to testify.
Michael J. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, who are mother and daughter, said Mr. Giuliani’s false accusations led to a “campaign of defamation and emotional terror” against them. He said the women had to move out of their homes for safety and security because of the thousands of threats that followed.
“Their names have become synonymous with crime, cheating and fraud,” Mr. Gottlieb said in his opening statement. “How much is somebody’s reputation worth?”
The women’s lawyers showed the jury social media posts, laden with expletives, racial slurs, accusations of treason and threats, some calling for them to be lynched.
Sitting across from Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss in the courtroom, Mr. Giuliani sighed, put his hand on his forehead and at times shook his head as Judge Howell described his actions after the election to the jury.
And he nodded his head as he watched footage of himself maligning the women in December 2020, when he said, “The F.B.I. hasn’t arrested anybody,” and “they just walk around free.”
Even as Georgia officials quickly debunked Mr. Giuliani’s assertions in 2020, he repeated them so often that Ms. Freeman became one of Mr. Trump’s favorite targets.
Georgia’s State Election Board conducted a yearslong investigation into Mr. Giuliani’s claims and officially cleared Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss last summer.
Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer said Monday that there is no question that Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss did not deserve what happened to them. But, he said, the harm inflicted on them was not all the fault of Mr. Giuliani.
“You’re going to see a lot of evidence of harm, but not much evidence that Mr. Giuliani was the cause,” he said.
The plaintiffs’ first witness was Regina Scott, a consultant who led a team hired to track the threats against the women. She described how analysts collected and cataloged thousands of screenshots that included mentions of their names. Ms. Scott’s risk-consulting firm, Jensen Hughes, found that in most cases the election workers’ names were mentioned in a negative context.
When he cross-examined Ms. Scott, Mr. Sibley was quick to point out that there was nothing in a majority of the posts clearly linking the comments to Mr. Giuliani.
Even though Judge Howell already ruled that Mr. Giuliani defamed the two women, their lawyers are presenting evidence of the attacks against them to try to convince the jury that their compensation should be significant.
But any amount is likely to throw Mr. Giuliani deeper into financial distress. He already owes money to lawyers who have represented him in other matters related to his post-election efforts to undermine President Biden’s victory in 2020. Disciplinary actions against him prevent him from working as a lawyer, and he faces disbarment.
He is also being sued by Dominion Voting Systems because of unfounded claims he made that the company was part of a scheme to rig the 2020 election against Mr. Trump.
Mr. Giuliani, along with Mr. Trump, has also been indicted in Georgia in a racketeering case on charges that they tampered with the state’s election.
Mr. Giuliani has previously annoyed Judge Howell because he was a no-show for one of the final court hearings in the case. He also refused to comply with routine trial obligations, including providing documents that would disclose his net worth and estimate the breadth of his media reach through his podcast and other programs. And last week, the judge chided Mr. Giuliani for asking that she, not a jury, hear the trial.
And arriving late to the courtroom on Monday did little to help Mr. Giuliani with the judge. After waiting for him to show up, Judge Howell sent someone to collect Mr. Giuliani from where he was standing with other members of the public in the security line to enter the courthouse.