SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — If Elon Musk was the kind of guy whose feelings were easily hurt, he might have been feeling a little a little sensitive Tuesday as jury selection in the latest trial against the Tesla CEO got underway. But he was nowhere near the Philip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, and didn’t have to hear potential jurors’ opinions of him.
That doesn’t mean he’s unaware. This past Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen rejected Musk’s request to move the trial to Austin, Texas, where Tesla is headquartered and where Musk believed he stood a better chance at a fair trial. All the negative coverage of his takeover of Twitter had, he insisted, made it impossible to find an unbiased jury in the San Francisco Bay Area where the social media giant is headquartered. Chen disagreed and insisted an impartial jury could be assembled.
Musk faces trial in a lawsuit filed by Tesla shareholders who say they were misled by an Aug. 7, 2018, tweet in which he said he secured financing for a Tesla buyout. That buyout never came to fruition, however, and stockholders cried foul.
“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured,” the world’s now-second richest man tweeted at the time. Tesla stock jumped in value and then sank when it when it became clear nothing of the sort was going to happen. That ended up costing Musk $40 million when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined him following an investigation.
Hearing some of the potential jurors’ comments Tuesday, however, it's clear Musk’s concerns of partiality may not have been entirely off the mark.
“I think he’s not a very likable person,” said one. “He seems to be a bit arrogant and narcissistic. That’s how he seems to come off.”
Another prospective juror described him as “arrogant, ill-informed, and irrational," adding she had friends who had worked in Tesla’s factory in nearby Fremont and had been treated unfairly.
“Does your knowledge of the factory issues affect your ability to participate?,” Chen asked her.
Not at all, she replied, adding she was confident she could be impartial.
That was a major issue for Musk’s defense team. Even if a prospective juror was only 51% biased against Musk, that 1% could tip the juror’s opinions as they heard testimony, said attorney Alexander Spiro.
But other prospective jurors spoke admiringly of Musk’s business acumen, although Juror 50’s initial description of the CEO as “mercenary” took Musk's attorneys a few moments to parse. What he meant, the prospective juror explained, is that Musk is a risk taker.
“I just see him as a younger person who’s done pretty well for himself,” Juror 50 said. “He seems to be a strong personality and he does what he wants.”
By day’s end, the necessary nine jurors had been assembled and Musk's defense had other issues to worry about, including the plaintiffs' attorney's use of “reckless disregard” in opening statements.
“What the plaintiffs are looking for a prejudicial effect,” said defense attorney Spiro. Chen disagreed.
Testimony kicks off Wednesday morning.
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