Attorneys for Tesla and Elon Musk have asked a federal judge in San Francisco to relocate or postpone a pending trial from Northern California to Western Texas, claiming that unbiased jurors will be difficult to find and citing “local negativity” toward Musk.
Musk, and other current and former Tesla board members, are set to face a jury in a shareholder class action that claims the CEO manipulated Tesla’s stock in 2018 when he tweeted that he was considering taking his electric vehicle company private at $420 per share, and had “funding secured” to do so.
Tesla’s stock trading was initially halted, and shares were extremely volatile for weeks following the tweets.
Musk was living in California at the time, and Tesla was headquartered in Palo Alto. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX relocated to Texas in 2020, and his electric vehicle company moved its headquarters to Austin in 2021.
Northern California Senior District Judge Edward M. Chen, who is overseeing the trial, ruled in 2022 that Musk’s statements in 2018 were false and that he knowingly tweeted them.
The upcoming trial and jury will decide whether Musk’s now-famous tweets were important to shareholders, whether they influenced Tesla’s share price, and whether the company or its directors should be held liable and pay damages.
Attorneys for Tesla and Musk argue in a motion to transfer venue that the CEO has received extensive and negative publicity in California since taking over Twitter, a San Francisco-based social media company, in October 2022.
Musk took over as CEO of Twitter and has since fired or laid off thousands of employees in a flurry of firings and layoffs.
Musk was booed during a recent public appearance in San Francisco after comedian Dave Chappelle invited him on stage.
“A substantial portion of the jury pool in this District is likely to hold a personal and material bias against Mr. Musk as a result of recent layoffs at one of his companies as individual prospective jurors—or their friends and relatives—may have been personally impacted,” said Alex Spiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, who has represented Musk in several court matters. The negative and inflammatory local publicity surrounding the events has compounded, expanded, and reinforced the existing baseline bias.”
Spiro also stated in the filing that “negative sentiment toward Mr. Musk was not limited to the press.” He stated that there are regular protests and picketing in front of Musk’s offices in San Francisco, and that some of them are “endorsed and encouraged by local political figures.”
Musk and his attorneys have previously claimed that his comments about a possible Tesla takeover in 2018 did not violate the law.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly claimed that he struck a handshake deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to take Tesla private for $420 per share. Text messages revealed in a subsequent trial in 2022 indicated that Saudi PIF investors had not fully agreed to fund a Tesla deal.
According to court filings this month in the securities class action, Musk’s attorneys have subpoenaed four Saudi Public Investment Fund employees to testify in this trial, including Naif Al Mogren, Saad Al Jarboa, Turqi Alnowaise, and Yasir Al-Rumayyan.