LOS ANGELES -- Elon Musk is known to mouth off, and get in trouble as a result.
His ability to keep his emotions, and words, in check will be put to a test this week when -- barring a last-minute settlement -- he’s set to take the witness stand in a high-profile defamation trial. He was seen entering the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
Jury selection was completed in about two hours.
Prospective jurors were quizzed for possible bias, including whether they could be fair to billionaires, like Musk, or people who lived in Thailand, like Unsworth.
One man was quickly excused after saying he was interviewing for a job with Tesla, while two women were dismissed after saying they followed Musk's tweets and could not be impartial.
The CEO of Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will have to go before a federal jury in Los Angeles and defend calling a British caver a “pedo guy.” The trial before U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson is scheduled to last about five days.
The civil trial is sure to be a spectacle. It’s the first time in his career that Musk will be called as a witness even though he is no stranger to litigation. In 2018, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit led to Musk stepping down as Tesla’s chairman for three years. Earlier this year, Musk was deposed for several hours as part of an ongoing shareholder lawsuit regarding Tesla’s 2016 acquisition of SolarCity.
But the defamation case largely centers on Musk’s ego. In 2018, as the world was riveted by the plight of a Thai youth soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, Musk and engineers at his companies prepared a mini submarine, built with rocket parts, to help with the rescue efforts. The kids were ultimately saved without the sub.
The high-profile effort from the celebrity CEO drew derision from Vernon Unsworth, a British caver who helped in the rescue effort. He told CNN that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts” and that it had no chance of working.
Musk responded on Twitter -- as he often does. He referred to Unsworth as a “pedo guy.” Later, he asked why Unsworth hadn’t sued him. Unsworth obliged and filed a lawsuit in September 2018. Musk deleted the tweet before the suit was filed.
“It’s another PR land mine that Elon Musk has to navigate,” said analyst Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures and a Tesla bull. “Good news is he has practice.”
Unsworth is represented by L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney best known for representing Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely accused of being connected to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics. [A Clint Eastwood-directed film about Richard Jewell opens next week]. Wood himself is also on Twitter, telling followers recently that Unsworth wouldn’t settle.