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Judge rejects Elon Musk’s request to move his upcoming securities fraud trial to Texas

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Musk’s lawyers claim that a jury pool from San Francisco will be biased against the billionaire in the aftermath of his $44 billion takeover of Twitter. But the judge didn’t find that argument persuasive.

A judge rejected Elon Musk’s request to move his upcoming securities fraud trial out of San Francisco, Bloomberg reports. Musk had argued that the jury pool from the city would be biased against him.

Musk is facing a civil trial next week stemming from a lawsuit filed by Tesla shareholders who accuse the billionaire of making false statements in his tweets from 2018 about taking the electric vehicle company private. The shareholders argue that Musk’s tweets, in which he claimed he had “funding secured” to take the company private, caused wild swings in Tesla’s share price, costing them billions of dollars.

The deal to take Tesla private never materialized, and Musk ultimately lost his chairmanship of the company and was forced to pay a $40 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Musk had requested moving the trial from California to Texas, where he lives and Tesla is now headquartered, arguing he can face a less biased jury pool in that state. Musk’s lawyers argued that his recent takeover on Twitter and his expressions of “honesty” in his tweets have damaged his reputation in San Francisco, with its famously liberal-leaning population. They cited as evidence a potential juror questionnaire that found over 80 percent of respondents had a negative impression of Musk, according to Bloomberg.

Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Musk, argued that amid all the media controversy around Musk, “we don’t think we can get a fair trial in this district, period, full stop.” 

“The media reports are character assassinations,” Spiro added. The “flavor and tenor” of the “character reporting” is about a “human being who is making firing decisions” at Twitter. He said “it doesn’t dissipate through evidence” presented at trial.

But District Court Judge Edward Chen didn’t buy this argument, expressing confidence that an impartial jury could be chosen to oversee Musk’s trial. Chen also noted that Musk still has “a lot of fans” in the Bay Area, according to Bloomberg. Chen also dismissed the idea of moving the trial to Texas, noting that it has no connection to the state as it was filed while Tesla was still headquartered in California.

Lawyers for the Tesla shareholders have noted that none of the prospective jurors work for Twitter and that only two of them knew someone who worked at the company.

“For better or worse, Musk is a celebrity who garners attention from the media around the globe,” the shareholders’ attorneys wrote in their 19-page opposition to the transfer request, according to AP. “His footprint on Twitter alone is partially to blame for that. If ‘negative’ attention was all that was required to disqualify a jury pool, Musk would effectively be untriable before a jury given his knack for attracting ’negative” coverage.”

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