The Maui News - Weekender
Jury: Musk didn’t defraud investors with 2018 Tesla tweets
SAN FRANCISO — A jury on Friday decided Elon Musk didn’t defraud investors with his 2018 tweets about electric automaker Tesla in a proposed deal that quickly unraveled and raised questions about whether the billionaire had misled investors.
The nine-member jury reached its verdict after less that two hours of deliberation following a three-week trial. It represents a major vindication for Musk, who spent about eight hours on the witness stand defending his motives for the August 2018 tweets at the center of the trial.
Musk, 51, wasn’t on hand for the brief reading of the verdict but he made a surprise appearance earlier Friday
for closing arguments that drew starkly different portraits of him.
Not long after the verdict came down, Musk took to Twitter — the bully pulpit he now owns — to celebrate.
“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed!” Musk tweeted.
Musk’s decision to break away from his other responsibilities to sit in on the closing arguments even though he didn’t have to be there may have had an impact on the jurors, said Michael Freedman, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice working for a law firm that has represented celebrities and business executives.
“It shows he has a presence,” Freedman said.
Nicholas Porritt, an attorney who represented aggrieved Tesla investors, said he was disappointed after urging the jurors in his closing arguments to rebuke Musk for reckless behavior that threatened to create “anarchy.”
“I don’t think this is the kind of conduct we expect from a large public company,” a downcast Porritt said after discussing the verdict with a few jurors who gathered to talk to him. “People can draw their own conclusion on whether they think it’s OK or not.”
During their discussion with Porritt, the jurors told them they found Musk’s testimony that he believed he had lined up the money from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund without a written commitment to be credible. They also expressed doubt about whether Musk’s tweeting was the sole reason for the swings in Tesla’s stock price during a 10-day period in August 2018 covered in the case.
The trial pitted Tesla investors represented in a class-action lawsuit against Musk, who is CEO of both the electric automaker and the Twitter service he bought for $44 billion a few months ago.
Shortly before boarding his private jet on Aug. 7, 2018, Musk tweeted that he had the financing to take Tesla private, even though it turned out he hadn’t gotten an iron-clad commitment for a deal that would have cost $20 billion to $70 billion to pull off. A few hours later, Musk sent another tweet indicating that the deal was imminent.