Elon Musk trial: Prospective jurors call him narcissistic, smart

Photo of Elon Musk
If a jury rules in favour of Tesla's shareholders, Mr Musk may be ordered to pay billions of dollars in damages

Prospective jurors in a civil lawsuit against Elon Musk have a range of opinions of him, from "smart, successful" to "off his rocker".

Mr Musk, who is being sued by Tesla shareholders arguing he manipulated the firm's share price, has said he cannot get a fair trial in San Francisco.

He wanted the trial to take place in Texas - where he has moved Tesla's headquarters - but that was rejected.

A jury has been selected, after jurors completed a pre-trial questionnaire.

The case centres on 2018 tweets, saying that he would take Tesla private. US regulators removed Mr Musk as Tesla chairman because of the posts.

On 7 August 2018, he tweeted that he had "funding secured" to take the carmaker private in what would be a $72bn (£58.7bn) buyout.

In a second tweet, Musk added that "investor support is confirmed," and that the deal was only awaiting a vote by shareholders. No such deal went ahead.

"The claim is that the investors felt that they were defrauded by Musk's tweet, that he was considering taking Tesla private and critically, that he had funding secured for it," Robert Bartlett, law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Reuters.

"That turned out not to be the case. So when the stock price rose after the news, they allegedly bought, and then it collapsed when the truth came out. They claimed that that was fraud."

The Tesla CEO, however, argued that he believed he had secured funding from Saudi Arabia's Investment Fund, and did not commit securities fraud.

"I think he's a little off his rocker, on a personal level," one possible juror wrote on a questionnaire asking whether they could be impartial.

"I truly believe you can't judge a person until you walk in their shoes," said another possible juror, who added that Mr Musk seemed "narcissistic".

Another person said Mr Musk had a "mercenary" personality because he's "willing to take risks… that's my image of him".

Another called him a "fast-rising business man", while yet another said he was a "smart, successful pioneer".

"I think he is not a very likable person," said one person, according to Yahoo.

When asked by the judge whether that meant she would not be impartial towards him, the woman responded:  "A lot of people are not necessarily likable people…. sometimes I don't like my husband."

Ultimately a jury of nine people was chosen, and opening arguments are set to begin on Wednesday.

Mr Musk argued that mass sackings at Twitter, a company he bought last year, affected many employees in the Californian city, and a fair trial couldn't take place there.

However, on Friday the judge said the trial would go ahead in California.

If a San Francisco jury rules in the shareholders' favour, Mr Musk could be ordered to pay billions of dollars in damages.

He has already paid $20m to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the tweet, while Tesla had to pay another $20m.

His tweet has become legendary in Silicon Valley, as it showed the sheer power that Twitter can have.

Legal experts said they believe it will be a difficult case for Mr Musk to win, and that the fine he paid to the SEC will be used against him in the case. However, jury trials in cases of fraud are notoriously difficult to predict.

The case may see Mr Musk give evidence under oath. The witness list includes Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison and media tycoon James Murdoch. It is expected to last around three weeks.