When we hear about substantial jury verdicts assessed against adjudged wrongdoers such as Donald Trump, and most recently, his consigliere-apparent, Rudy Giuliani, often in the back of our minds there is the troubling suspicion that the injured plaintiffs—the E. Jean Carrolls, Ruby Freemans, and Shaye Mosses, for example—will never see a dime of that money. Unless, that is, measures are taken to prevent the wrongdoer from availing themself of the myriad ways that the very wealthy can effectively hide or otherwise insulate their assets from the reach of the legal process.
It makes the order that a federal judge issued Wednesday something of a pleasant, reassuring surprise.
As reported by Rachel Weiner, writing for The Washington Post:
Rudy Giuliani must immediately pay the $148 million he owes two Georgia women he falsely accused of helping steal the 2020 election, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in a scathing order accusing the former Trump attorney of ongoing dishonesty.
Judge Beryl A. Howell wrote that there is a strong danger Giuliani is likely to hide his assets from plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye “Shaye” Moss and is unlikely to succeed in having last week’s jury verdict overturned or cut down on appeal.
Attorneys for the two women still have to enforce the judgment against Giuliani, which may involve further court proceedings. But they do not have to wait the standard 30 days to begin trying to seize his assets.
Last week, Giuliani was found liable for compensatory and punitive damages by a unanimous jury for defaming Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. The women brought suit against Giuliani based on the unfounded, accusatory, and scurrilous statements he leveled against the pair in connection with the counting of votes in the 2020 election. Following a default judgment entered by the court on liability, the jury’s award included damages assessed for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Evidently the eight-member jury all agreed that Giuliani’s actions severely damaged the reputations of both women, ultimately forcing them to endure harassment and death threats from individuals who were presumably egged on by Giuliani’s conduct and statements.
As Weiner notes, Howell explicitly recognized the reality that Giuliani might attempt to hide assets from the reach of the judgment. And according to Weiner, Giuliani ignored court orders requiring him to divulge his assets. Judges are seldom impressed with litigants who ignore their orders (probably even less so when the litigant is a former prosecutor). Howell was no exception, citing Giuliani’s behavior in support of her decision.
From the order:
Giuliani feebly counters concerns about him hiding assets, stating that “there is no evidence in the record of any attempt by [him] to dissipate assets.” Def.’s Opp’n at 2. This statement simply ignores the ample record in this case of Giuliani’s efforts to conceal or hide his assets by failing to comply with discovery requests, including “plaintiffs’ requests for financial information.”
As Weiner reports, in response to Giuliani’s lawyer’s protestation that such a verdict would mean “the end” of his client, the judge also noted that the former New York City mayor owns properties in New York and Florida, and wondered how a man supposedly so destitute could afford to pay a spokesman “who accompanied him daily to trial.”
As for the $148 million verdict itself, Howell stuck the equivalent of a judicial dagger in Giuliani’s hopes that the judgment might be reduced on appeal—a common occurrence with very high verdicts.
As Weiner reports:
It would be “difficult” for him to convince the court he should be allowed to appeal without first posting a bond equivalent to the judgment, she said. And, she said, considering what jurors heard about his “past and continuing — including up to and during trial — defamation of” the two women, the judgment was “conservative.”
Along those lines, the judge sent a direct message not only about how she personally would likely react to a request for verdict reduction (known as “remittitur”), but also to the federal circuit court that could hear any ultimate appeal of the verdict (a process that could still delay Giuliani’s obligation to pay for some time, depending on how such an appeal proceeds). As Weiner noted Saturday, the requirement of posting a bond could also prevent Giuliani “from drawing down his assets while the appeal is pending.”
While not pre-judging any remittitur arguments that may be made by Giuliani, the obvious fact that the jury’s unanimous awards were conservative as to the plaintiffs’ requested compensation for reputational harm due to Giuliani’s defamation per se, based on the expert’s calculation of the cost of repairing their reputations, and the jury’s punitive damages award was nearly equivalent to compensatory damages, rather than multiplied by up to four times compensatory damages, reduction of the award on remittitur faces some challenges.
Here, Howell is reminding both Giuliani and any appellate court that the verdict was well within the jury’s purview based on the expert and witness testimony, and in accordance with the general standard of deference and review afforded to awards of punitive damages.
In sum, to suggest this was a merely a “bad” ruling for Giuliani would be a massive understatement. It was perhaps—as his own lawyer had previously, candidly acknowledged—something more akin to a financial “death penalty” for Giuliani.