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By Tim Higgins
A Los Angeles jury ruled in favor of Elon Musk, deciding on Friday that the Tesla Inc. chief executive's use of Twitter last year to suggest a British spelunker was a pedophile didn't amount to defamation.
"The jury got it right," Mr. Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro, said in a statement after the ruling. He didn't provide additional details.
The legal battle stems from Mr. Musk's involvement in a high-profile effort to rescue a youth soccer team trapped in a flooded Thailand cave last year. British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, who helped in the early days of the operation, criticized Mr. Musk's effort to use a mini-sub to save the boys as a public-relations stunt. The device was never used, and Mr. Unsworth told CNN that Mr. Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts."
Mr. Musk responded on Twitter, referring to Mr. Unsworth as "pedo guy." He later deleted his tweets and apologized, only to reignite the matter later with additional tweets.
The case attracted legal titans both sides. Mr. Spiro, whose clients have included billionaire Robert Kraft and rapper Jay-Z, painted the exchange in the context of joking taunts amid a conflict between men. Mr. Musk made rare court appearances, testifying he didn't mean to convey that Mr. Unsworth was an actual pedophile, but rather "a creep."
Mr. Unsworth's legal team included L. Lin Wood, who represented Richard Jewell after he was falsely blamed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing. Mr. Unsworth's team sought to cast Mr. Musk as a high-profile billionaire using his power to tarnish Mr. Unsworth's reputation. Mr. Unsworth took the stand to describe the emotional toll the matter had taken on him.
The trial also played out on Twitter, as reporters tweeted the latest updates between breaks. Camera crews staked outside the U.S. District Court in hopes of capturing an image of Mr. Musk.
Mr. Musk's use of Twitter has helped Tesla generate publicity for its electric vehicles, while also entangling him in legal messes. The Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of misleading investors with a tweet last year that claimed he had lined up funding to take Tesla private. He settled with the SEC, and as part of that deal, agreed to have his tweets preapproved by Tesla when dealing with the company's material business.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 06, 2019 19:43 ET (00:43 GMT)
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