MFIA Clinic Files Suit on Behalf of Georgia Election Workers
The Media Freedom and Information Access (MFIA) Clinic at Yale Law School, working with Protect Democracy and law firms in Georgia and Missouri, filed a defamation lawsuit on Dec. 2, 2021 against the website Gateway Pundit on behalf of two women who served as election workers in Fulton County, Georgia during the 2020 election.
The MFIA team that worked on the suit includes Yale Law School students Stephanie Rice ’23 and Chelsea Thomeer ’23. MFIA and Protect Democracy represent Freeman and Moss in partnership with the law firms DuBose Miller LLC and Dowd Bennett LLP, and Kastorf Law, LLC.
The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis, charges the Gateway Pundit, along with its founding editor Jim Hoft and contributor Joe Hoft, with knowingly fabricating and disseminating false stories about the vote counting conduct of Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss.
As alleged in the complaint, the Gateway Pundit repeatedly published unverified claims that Freeman and Moss pulled off a major election fraud that tipped the presidential election in Georgia to Joe Biden. Based on a misinterpretation of a few minutes of security camera video from the ballot tabulation center in Fulton County, accusations were initially made by the Trump campaign that some unnamed poll workers hid suitcases stuffed with fraudulent ballots and counted them after poll watchers left for the night. The accusation was definitively refuted by Georgia election officials within 24 hours and is not supported by a viewing of the full 14 hours of security camera video from the day in question, according to the complaint.
As the lawsuit lays out, the Gateway Pundit repeated and expanded upon the false claim over the following weeks and months, accusing Freeman and Moss of a series of misdeeds, including faking a water main break to provide cover for them to bring suitcases full of fraudulent ballots into the tabulation center, conspiring to get poll watchers and reporters to leave the facility at 11:00 p.m., and then retrieving the hidden ballots and running them through the vote counting machines multiple times. The complaint contends that none of this was true and that the Gateway Pundit and its journalists knowingly disseminated the false claims to gain readership for their personal “fame and fortune.”
As a result of the Gateway Pundit’s defamation, the complaint asserts, Freeman and Moss were vilified on social media and subjected to an onslaught of violent, racist threats, and harassment.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a crowd on foot and in vehicles surrounded Freeman’s house. At the recommendation of the FBI, she fled her home and did not return for two months. The complaint also describes how, on at least two occasions, strangers showed up the home of Moss’s grandmother and attempted to push into the house to make a “citizen’s arrest.” Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for the harms the Gateway Pundit allegedly inflicted on them.
“This is the sort of lawsuit libel law was created to permit,” said First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams. “The complaint depicts terribly wronged plaintiffs suing to restore their grievously harmed reputations from statements made with knowledge of their falsity. Not only does the First Amendment provide no protection for such statements, but this is precisely the situation in which libel litigation is most needed.”
“As nonpartisan election officials, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss are essential workers in our democracy,” said Michael Linhorst, Clinical Lecturer in Law and Craig Newmark Fellow at Yale Law School. “Instead of being celebrated, they have been subjected to horrific abuse, their reputations have suffered, and their lives have been endangered. They are bravely stepping forward to file this lawsuit to help prevent future attacks on the people who help make our democracy function.”
According to MFIA clinic director and Floyd Abrams Clinical Lecturer in Law David Schulz ’78, the clinic agreed to take on this case because “the type of disinformation campaign waged by the Gateway Pundit is undermining the very ability of our democracy to function. A key part of MFIA’s mission is to promote government transparency and accountability, and in this current moment nothing could be more important to promoting government transparency and accountability than combating the sources of disinformation and lies that are making meaningful democratic oversight virtually impossible.”
Schulz added, “this is not only a worthy effort in furtherance of MFIA’s mission, but the case is providing valuable educational opportunities for YLS students.”
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School is dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression through impact litigation, direct legal services, and policy work.