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‘Partisan Character Assassination’: Ga. Election Workers Sue OAN, Chanel Rion, and Rudy Giuliani Over ‘Debunked’ Claims That They Counted ‘Suitcases’ Full of Ballots

One America News Network's Chanel Rion (L) poses for photographs with President Donald Trump's lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani following an interview outside the White House West Wing July 1, 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

One America News Network’s Chanel Rion (L) poses for photographs with President Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani following an interview outside the White House West Wing July 1, 2020. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

Two elections workers on Thursday filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the pro-Trump One America News Network (OAN), its correspondent Chanel Rion, its founder Robert Herring, and its president Charles Herring. OAN is sued under its corporate name Herring Networks, Inc.; both of the Herrings are named as “owners” of the network. Also named as a separate defendant is Rudy Giuliani, a “frequent guest” on OAN broadcasts.

Plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, both of Georgia, say the defendants all “bear responsibility for the partisan character assassination” that resulted after the 2020 presidential election. Freeman was a “temporary election worker,” while Moss “supervised Fulton County’s absentee ballot operation during the 2020 general election,” the lawsuit later notes.

“Defendants have engaged in a concerted effort to accuse Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, by name, of committing ballot fraud in order to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants worked together to publish false statements accusing Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss of committing election fraud.”

The lawsuit then presents a laundry list of assertions by the defendants which the plaintiffs seek to attack in court. The plaintiffs say the defendants accused them of:

— engaging in a criminal conspiracy, along with others, to illegally exclude observers during the counting of ballots “under false pretenses” so that they could engage in election fraud;

— criminally and/or fraudulently introducing “suitcases” of illegal ballots into the ballot-counting process;

— criminally and/or fraudulently counting the same ballots multiple times in order to swing the results of the election;

— surreptitiously passing around flash drives that were not supposed to be placed in Dominion voting machines; and

— committing other crimes, including participating in something that amounted to the “crime of the century.”

The lawsuit slammed OAN as having “a business model, not a journalistic model” and says it “does not attempt to perform the functions of an objective news organization.”

The core of the lawsuit then returned to the defendant’s specific alleged conduct as to plaintiffs:

With knowledge that the claims against Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were not based in fact, OAN has spent the past year accusing them of engaging in the illegal act of election fraud, along with other false allegations. As part of that campaign, OAN repeatedly turned to Giuliani, a member of former President Trump’s campaign team and one of the central orchestrators of the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was rigged.

On December 3, 2020, the Trump campaign published an edited video from a grainy security camera that showed unidentified persons (including individuals later identified as Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss) counting ballots. The Trump campaign and Giuliani used that video to fabricate the lies that Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were illegally counting ballots. Giuliani amplified the video by posting about it on social media and directing his followers to watch it multiple times over the next two days. OAN, its hosts, and its staff leveraged Giuliani’s unsupported factual assertions and almost immediately published them to millions of its viewers and readers, subsequently adding Ms. Freeman’s and Ms. Moss’s names and leveling additional accusations of criminal fraud against them.

The lawsuit then says that these and other claims of election malfeasance were “definitively debunked” several times over again:

Within 24 hours of Giuliani and the Trump campaign’s original publication of these lies on December 3, 2020, Georgia election officials publicly and definitively debunked the claims about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss through a detailed explanation of what the misinterpreted video did not show: no suitcases; no illegal ballot counting; no election fraud. A full hand recount of Georgia’s election results had already confirmed the election results, and by December 7, so would the recount requested by the Trump campaign. Through December and January, Georgia’s Republican election officials continued to explain to the public, again and again, that thorough reviews had disproven Defendants’ false claims and proven that no illegal ballot counting had occurred.

“Defendants knew about and recklessly disregarded Georgia election officials’ clear refutation of Giuliani’s claims,” the lawsuit continues. “Even after the claims about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss had been publicly discredited, Defendants continued to repeat and republish the false and defamatory statements, including to this day: Giuliani appeared on OAN on December 10, 2021, to reprise his lies. With no concern for the truth or the consequences of their willful conduct, Defendants baselessly portrayed Plaintiffs as traitors who participated in a carefully planned conspiracy to steal the presidential election in Georgia.”

“Ms. Freeman and/or Ms. Moss did not, at any time, ever: conspire to clear poll watchers from the room where they were counting ballots, produce secret ‘suitcases’ full of illegal ballots, or illegally count ballots multiple times,” the lawsuit goes on. “There is not, and has never been, any basis in the video for making such statements.”

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs faced an “onslaught of violent and racist threats and harassment” as a result of the alleged defamation.

“Ms. Freeman, at the recommendation of the FBI, fled her home and did not return for two months,” the lawsuit says. “On January 6, 2021, a crowd on foot and in vehicles surrounded Ms. Freeman’s house. Ms. Freeman was forced to shutter her online business when social media became impossible to navigate.”

In addition to “harassing messages” via email, strangers attempted “[o]n at least two occasions” to barge into Moss’s grandmother’s house in a forceful attempt to make an alleged “citizen’s arrest,” the lawsuit also says.

After dozens of pages of factual recitations about — and takedowns of — OAN’s coverage and Giuliani’s statements surrounding the election, the plaintiffs alleged one count of defamation per se (for accusing the plaintiffs of committing criminal conduct) with actual malice.

“Defendants failed to contact and question obvious available sources for corroboration; disregarded reliable sources refuting their claims; had no credible basis for the false allegations made; and published their allegations in a manner to create false inferences,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit then alleges one additional count each of intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy against all of the defendants. The latter count accuses all of the various parties of “acting in concert” and of having “coordinated in furtherance of the common scheme.”

A fourth claim alleges that the defendants aided and abetted one another in committing the alleged acts.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified nominal damages; compensatory damages (including general, actual, consequential, and special damages to be determined at trial); punitive damages; attorneys’ fees; costs; interest; a declaration that the factual assertions issued by the defendants about the plaintiffs were, indeed, false; injunctive relief “enjoining Defendants to remove their false and defamatory statements . . . from any website and/or social media accounts under their control;” and any other relief the court considers appropriate.

Earlier on, the lawsuit extolled the virtues of election workers generally:

The conduct of free and fair elections in the United States relies upon the service of nonpartisan election workers. For most of American history, these ordinary citizens have received thanks for their efforts, even from those candidates who have come up short. In the 2020 federal election, however, that venerable tradition was decimated by anti-democratic actors desperate for scapegoats whom they could blame for election results that they refused to accept.

Plaintiffs Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, through no fault of their own, are among those scapegoats. They served as official election workers in Georgia during the 2020 federal election. Like countless other election workers, they share a patriotic commitment to a free and fair democratic process.

As a result of their vital service, Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss have become the objects of vitriol, threats, and harassment. They found themselves in this unenviable position not based on anything they did, but instead because of a campaign of malicious lies designed to accuse them of interfering with a fair and impartial election, which is precisely what each of them swore an oath to protect.

Inquiries by Newsweek to OAN, its owners, and to Giuliani were not returned, the magazine noted. Charles Herring did not immediately respond to an email sent by Law&Crime.

The 80-page civil complaint is below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.