Court rejects Elon Musk’s request to move Tesla shareholder trial out of San Francisco

A judge dismissed the billionaire's claim he would face a biased jury if proceedings went forward in California.

Jonathan Ernst / reuters

A federal judge has denied Elon Musk’s request to move his upcoming trial against a group of Tesla shareholders to Texas, according to Bloomberg (via The Verge). On January 7th, less than two weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin on the 17th, Musk’s legal team asked to move proceedings out of California, claiming “a substantial portion” of the potential jury pool in San Francisco was likely to hold a bias against the billionaire, in part due to the ongoing layoffs at Twitter.

The upcoming civil trial stems from a class action lawsuit related to “false and misleading” statements Musk made in 2018 when he said he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share. Musk’s “funding secured” tweet drew the attention of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, eventually leading to a $40 million settlement.

The shareholders involved in the suit allege Musk’s tweet affected Tesla’s stock price. They’re asking the court to order Musk to stop his “public campaign to present a contradictory and false narrative” of the episode. They say he should also be accountable for potential damages. The group won an early victory last spring when District Judge Edward Chen concluded Musk had “recklessly made the statements with knowledge as to their falsity.”

Of the approximately 200 candidates the court is considering for the jury, 82 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of Musk in a pre-trial questionnaire. Ahead of the recent hearing, Alex Spiro, Musk’s lawyer, said the sheet showed “not only that a vast majority of potential jurors hold ill-will toward Mr. Musk. but that they are not afraid to declare it proudly and vividly to the court.” However, Judge Chen didn’t buy Spiro’s argument. Alluding to the recently concluded Theranos trial, Chen said a fellow judge in a nearby courthouse was able to assemble an “unbiased” jury to decide whether Elizabeth Holmes was guilty of criminal charges. He also dismissed the idea of moving the case to Texas, noting Tesla’s main office was located in California when Tesla shareholders sued Musk.