‘Delusional Narcissist’ – Musk’s Fraud Jury Fight Is On

(Bloomberg) – A Northern California resident who described Elon Musk as “the next Trump” and said his immense wealth made him “a delusional narcissist” didn’t last long in the potential jury pool for Tesla Inc. CEO fraud trial next week.

Bloomberg’s Most Read

But a woman who wrote in a questionnaire that “Mr. Musk is not sympathetic” was not immediately eliminated – despite objections from Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro.

“Sympathy is not at the heart” of assessing who is fit to serve on the civil jury, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said during a hearing Friday in San Francisco as he huddled with lawyers for a preliminary round of jury selection to decide which candidates should be summoned to court for re-examination next week.

The judge added that the woman’s expression of aversion to one of the world’s most famous and wealthy businessmen was of “low intensity” compared to the others. Chen also refused to disqualify a person who wrote that “cars are nice, but Mr. Musk is an idiot.”

And so on – with Chen expressing confidence he’ll be able to sit on a 12-person impartial panel in no time and Spiro complaining that his client can’t get a fair trial in San Francisco “period, period.”

The judge aims to select the jury by Tuesday and then launch into the trial with opening arguments and testimony – including, in all likelihood, from Musk himself.

The challenge is to weed out anyone who might be biased from a pool of around 200 potential candidates, 82% of whom who admitted to having an opinion of the billionaire said in questionnaires that they viewed him negatively.

On Friday, Chen divided potential jurors into two groups: one who had expressed neutrality or even positive views of Musk, and another, whom he called “hot” and “radioactive,” who shared negative, sometimes harshly critical opinions about Musk. People from either group could end up on the jury, depending on their reactions to further questions next week.

Exactly what prospective jurors wrote in the questionnaires was blacked out in court documents to protect their privacy, but Musk’s team called their dislike of the contractor passionate.

Spiro argued in a filing that the questionnaires show “not only that a large majority of potential jurors have ill will toward Mr. Musk. but that they are not afraid to declare it proudly and earnestly at court.

Read more: Musk says San Francisco jurors don’t love him ‘passionately’

At one point on Friday, Chen contemplated aloud whether a juror who lives far from San Francisco in northern California could be accommodated in a hotel during the trial. But the idea was quickly dropped when Spiro pointed out that the juror had described Musk in the questionnaire with a vulgar word.

Spiro, who has become Musk’s go-to lawyer for high-profile cases, persuaded a federal jury in Los Angeles in 2019 to return a verdict in favor of the CEO in less than an hour in a case brought by a British caver who claimed he was defamed when Musk called him a “pedo” in a tweet.

In the current case, Tesla investors allege Musk’s August 2018 tweets about privatizing the electric car maker with ‘secure financing’ were ‘unquestionably false’ and cost them billions of dollars by causing swings savages of Tesla’s share price. Musk claimed the Saudi sovereign wealth fund had agreed to back his bid to take Tesla private.

Spiro was unable on Friday to convince Chen to move Musk’s latest trial out of the city that is home to Twitter Inc., even with the argument that ‘local negativity’ has mounted since Musk acquired the company. social networking site in October and began slashing its workforce.

“The media reports are murders,” the lawyer said. The “flavor and tenor” of the “character report” is about a “human being making firing decisions” on Twitter.

Read more: Saudi fund chief refuses to testify in Musk’s Tesla fraud trial

Chen held firm. He alluded to how a fellow judge at a nearby courthouse was able to assemble an “impartial” jury for the criminal trial of disgraced Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes. His lawyers had also expressed their concern about too negative a press.

It’s rare for cases, especially civil lawsuits, to be moved to another district because of pretrial publicity, said securities and criminal defense attorney Tim Crudo. “You really have to show that the jury pool is so tainted that you can’t get a fair trial.”

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Most Read

©2023 Bloomberg LP

Leave a Comment