Elon Musk has urged a federal judge to shift a trial in a shareholder lawsuit out of San Francisco because he says negative local media coverage has biased potential jurors against him.
Instead, in a filing submitted just before the weekend – less than two weeks before the trial was set to begin on January 17 – Musk’s lawyers argue it should be moved to the federal court in the western district of Texas. That district includes the state capital of Austin, which is where Musk relocated his electric car company, Tesla, in late 2021.
The shareholder lawsuit stems from Musk’s tweets in August 2018 when he said he had sufficient financing to take Tesla private at $420 a share ($661 NZD) – an announcement that caused heavy volatility in Tesla’s share price.
In a victory for the shareholder’s last spring, Judge Edward Chen ruled that Musk’s tweets were false and reckless.
If moving the trial isn’t possible, Musk’s lawyers want it postponed until negative publicity regarding the billionaire’s purchase of Twitter has died down.
“For the last several months, the local media have saturated this district with biased and negative stories about Mr Musk,” attorney Alex Spiro wrote in a court filing. Those news items have personally blamed Musk for recent layoffs at Twitter, Spiro wrote, and have charged that the job cuts may have even violated laws.
The shareholders’ attorneys emphasised the last-minute timing of the request, saying, “Musk’s concerns are unfounded and his motion is meritless.”
“The Northern District of California is the proper venue for this lawsuit and where it has been actively litigated for over four years,” attorney Nicholas Porritt wrote in an email.
The filing by Musk’s attorneys also notes that Twitter has laid off about 1000 residents in the San Francisco area since he purchased the company in late October.
“A substantial portion of the jury pool…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,” the filing said.
Musk has also been criticised by San Francisco’s mayor and other local officials for the job cuts, the filing said.