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.
Following a three-week trial, the nine-member jury came to a verdict in under two hours. Musk was able to see the verdict for himself after spending eight hours in the witness stand explaining his reasons for tweeting August 2018.
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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 tweets
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 spoke.
Nicholas Porritt was an attorney representing Tesla investor aggrieved investors. He said that he was disappointed to have urged the jurors to reject Musk’s reckless conduct in closing arguments. “anarchy.”
“I don’t think this is the kind of conduct we expect from a large public company,”Porritt was distraught after discussing the verdict, with some jurors who had gathered around to speak 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.
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Tesla investors are represented in class-action suit against Musk. Musk was CEO of Tesla’s electric carmaker, as well the Twitter company he acquired for $44 billion just a few short 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. Musk tweeted a few hours later confirming that the deal was close.
Musk’s integrity was at stake at the trial as well part of a fortune that has established him as one of the world’s richest people. If he was found liable by the jury for his 2018 tweets, which were already deemed falsehoods in court proceedings, he could be owed billions of dollars.
This determination was made by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen last year. The jury had to decide whether Musk was irresponsible with tweets and acted in ways that were detrimental for Tesla shareholders.
“It may have not been that difficult for the jury,”Freedman claimed, “because it sort of became like an up-or-down vote.”
Earlier Friday, Musk sat stoically in court during the trial’s closing arguments while he was both vilified as a rich and reckless narcissist and hailed as a visionary looking out for the “little guy.”
Porritt had pleaded with the jurors for rebuke Musk over the course of his one-hour presentation “loose relationship with the truth.”
“Our society is based on rules,” Porritt said. “We need rules to save us from anarchy. Rules should apply to Elon Musk like everyone else.”
Alex Spiro, Musk’s attorney, conceded the 2018 tweets were “technically inaccurate.”He told jurors that he was innocent. “Just because it’s a bad tweet doesn’t make it a fraud.”
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During roughly eight hours on the stand earlier in the trial, Musk insisted he believed he had lined up the funds from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to take Tesla private after eight years as a publicly held company. Musk defended the August 2018 tweet he sent. It was well-intentioned, and was intended to inform all Tesla investors that Tesla might end its tenure as a publicly owned company.
“I had no ill motive,”Musk was a witness. “My intent was to do the right thing for all shareholders.”
Spiro repeated this theme in his concluding argument.
“He was trying to include the retail shareholder, the mom and pop, the little guy, and not seize more power for himself,” Spiro said.
Porritt, meanwhile, scoffed at the notion that Musk could have concluded he had a firm commitment after a 45-minute meeting at a Tesla factory on July 31, 2018, with Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund, given there was no written documentation.
In his 90 minute presentation, Spiro emphasized Musk’s track record helping to start and run a list of companies that include digital payment pioneer PayPal and rocket ship maker SpaceX, in addition to Tesla. The automaker based in Austin, Texas, is now worth nearly $600 billion, despite a steep decline in its stock price last year amid concerns that Musk’s purchase of Twitter would distract him from Tesla.
Recalling Musk’s roots as a South African immigrant who came to Silicon Valley to create revolutionary tech companies, Spiro described his client “as the kind of person who believes the impossible is possible.”
This article was written by The Associated Press.
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