Enlarge / Documents for the shareholder lawsuit against Elon Musk and Tesla arrive in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday, January 17, 2023.
Getty Images | Bloomberg
Jury selection in a class action lawsuit against Tesla CEO Elon Musk began today in federal court in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, potential jurors already knew who Musk was, and some expressed strong, negative opinions of him.
One woman called Musk “talented but crazy” in a questionnaire distributed to prospective jurors. Other potential jurors described Musk as arrogant, narcissistic, unpredictable and irrational. One said Musk had a mercenary personality.
That doesn’t mean Musk won’t get a fair trial. The jury selection process, while imperfect, is designed to exclude jurors who cannot make impartial judgments based on the evidence.
Musk’s attorneys previously attempted to have the case moved out of San Francisco, arguing that the jury was already too biased against him. Judge Edward Chen dismissed the attempt, saying at a hearing Friday that Musk “has a lot of fans out there.” Today, Musk’s attorneys pressed some jurors to see if they can be fair, considering they’ve expressed strong views about Musk or his use of social media.
Lead plaintiff Glen Littleton is seeking billions in damages from a class of investors who bought Tesla stock at inflated prices and sold it at a loss after Musk falsely claimed in 2018 that he had secured financing to buy Tesla at $420 a share to privatize. Chen, a US District Court judge for the Northern District of California, has already ruled that Musk recklessly made false statements on Twitter.
But there are key questions for the jury to decide during the 10-day process. For a more detailed preview of the case, see this article. The jury’s selection was ongoing as of the publication of this article, but could be completed today. We listened to portions of the jury’s selections via the study’s zoom link.
“I can try to remain neutral”
Along with scores of others, the woman, who Musk described as “talented but insane,” answered questions from the judge and the sides’ attorneys about her views on Musk. She said that “social media isn’t the way to do” job duties and that she would “expect someone with more professionalism” to be the CEO of a big company.
Noting that the case involved Musk’s tweets, Chen asked the woman if she could be fair about her opinion of Musk’s use of social media. “I can try to remain neutral,” she said.
After Musk’s lawyer pressed her to testify, she said, “I’m probably a little biased. If I get picked and have to do that, all I can do is recalibrate and look at the evidence and try to be fair.”
A would-be juror called Musk “arrogant” but also a “genius.” The man said his views of Musk have become more negative since he bought Twitter. “Before that, he just seemed like another arrogant rich man,” he said. Still, the man said his opinion wouldn’t stop him from being fair.
“A bit arrogant and narcissistic”
One woman who described Musk as arrogant, unpredictable and irrational criticized his insistence on keeping Tesla factories open despite local safeguards in the early days of the pandemic.
One woman who said Musk came across as “a bit arrogant and narcissistic” in interviews said she could be a fair juror. “A lot of people aren’t necessarily likeable people, but that doesn’t mean you should judge them by that,” she responded to a question from Chen.
“I really believe that you can’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” she said after being asked by Musk’s attorney if her views would consciously or unconsciously influence her during the trial.
One man who said Musk had a “mercenary personality” said that type of personality could lead to good results. “He seems to have a strong personality and does what he wants… I just use that [phrase] Saying he’s willing to take a risk, take risks and do things that others might not have the guts to do.”
“I don’t think I’m the right person for this case”
A concern for Musk’s side was finding jurors not prejudging the case based on the fact that the judge had already ruled Musk’s tweets false.
“They are told that Musk’s tweets were inaccurate. They are asked to decide whether, in the context in which they were made, they were important to a reasonable investor in buying and selling a security,” Musk’s attorney told jurors.
Musk’s attorney repeatedly urged potential jurors to consider whether this was the right case for them. “I don’t think I’m necessarily the right person for this case,” said one man. “I have many opinions.”
An Associated Press article states that 52 people have been invited to the jury for possible selection. After Musk’s attorney, Alex Spiro, expressed “serious concerns about a fair and impartial jury,” Chen agreed that eight would-be jurors who had expressed extreme concerns or enthusiasm about Musk in pre-trial questionnaires would be questioned privately to determine the Reduce the likelihood of influencing the opinions of other people in the courtroom.”