Elon Musk was the subject of pointed questions in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday as attorneys grilled prospective jurors on their opinions of the divisive CEO—and whether they could put those opinions aside in a high-profile securities fraud trial.
The trial pits Musk against a group of Tesla shareholders who claim that Musk manipulated the company’s stock with a 2018 tweet declaring that he had “funding secured” for a deal to take Tesla private at $420 per share.
That tweet has already resulted in a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement and $20 million fine for Musk. But the Tesla investors who held shares in the days following the infamous tweet—which led to wild fluctuations in the stock price as the purported deal failed to materialize—alleged that Musk acted recklessly and collectively cost them billions.
Prospective jurors had to submit a questionnaire that asked for their views of Tesla and Musk—and the responses were a microcosm of the antipathy mixed with admiration attached to the overexposed CEO’s public image. The court broadcast Tuesday’s jury selection in an audio stream.
”He’s arrogant as I see it; I know he’s a genius,” one responded when asked to articulate his views of Musk on Tuesday. “I think since the Twitter thing started my views have become more negative.”
Throughout the jury selection, candidates described Musk as “arrogant,” “talented but crazy,” “off his rocker” and, more plainly, “he sucks.” Another described him as a “smart, successful pioneer.”
Several jurors said they disagreed with Musk’s behaviors, from his self-professed views on free speech and his erratic use of social media to his illegal reopening of a Fremont-based Tesla factory in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
Attorneys questioned the prospective jurors on how well-developed their views were on Musk, and whether they’d be able to evaluate the facts of the case with an open mind. Most were confident that, despite any personal opinions of Musk, they were capable of making impartial judgments in the case.
Musk’s lawyers had tried to delay the trial or have it moved to Texas, arguing that Musk couldn’t get a fair trial in San Francisco due to “inflammatory” media coverage of job cuts at Twitter.
Musk was booed during a surprise appearance at a Dave Chapelle show on Dec. 11, writing in a now-deleted tweet that “It’s almost as if I’ve offended SF’s unhinged leftists.”
Judge Edward Chen rejected Musk’s bid to relocate the trial, pointing to questionnaires showing that, while many prospective jurors viewed Musk negatively, some did not.
Musk is expected to testify at the trial about his efforts to secure funding for the take-private deal.
Annie Gaus can be reached at [email protected]