A group of Tesla shareholders suing CEO Elon Musk over some 2018 tweets about taking the company private is asking a federal judge to order Musk to stop commenting on the case.
Lawyers for stockholders of the Austin, Texas-based company also say in court documents that the judge in the case has ruled that Mr Musk’s tweets about having “funding secured” to take Tesla private were false.
They say his comments also violate a 2018 court settlement with US securities regulators in which Mr Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay $US20 million fines.
Mr Musk, during an interview on Thursday at the TED 2022 conference, said he had the funding to take Tesla private in 2018.
He called the Securities and Exchange Commission a profane name and said he only settled because bankers told him they would stop providing capital if he didn’t, and Tesla would go bankrupt.
The interview and court action came just days after Mr Musk, the world’s richest person, made a controversial offer to take over Twitter and turn it into a private company with a $US43 billion ($58 billion) offer that equals $US54.20 per share.
Twitter’s board on Friday adopted a “poison pill” strategy that would make it prohibitively expensive for Mr Musk to buy the shares.
In court documents filed on Friday, lawyers for the Tesla shareholders alleged that Mr Musk is trying to influence potential jurors in the lawsuit.
They contend that Mr Musk’s 2018 tweets about having the money to take Tesla private at $US420 per share were written to manipulate the stock price, costing shareholders money.
Now, lawyers say Mr Musk is campaigning to influence possible jurors as the case gets closer to trial.
“Musk’s comments risk confusing potential jurors with the false narrative that he did not knowingly make misrepresentations with his August 7, 2018 tweets,” the lawyers wrote.
“His present statements on that issue, an unsubtle attempt to absolve himself in the court of public opinion, will only have a prejudicial influence on a jury.”
The lawyers asked Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco to issue restrain Mr Musk from making further public comments on the issue until after the trial. Mr Chen gave Mr Musk’s lawyers until Wednesday to respond.
Alex Spiro, a lawyer representing Mr Musk, wrote in an email on Sunday that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking a big payout.
“Nothing will ever change the truth, which is that Elon Musk was considering taking Tesla private and could have,” he wrote.
“All that’s left some half-decade later is random plaintiffs lawyers trying to make a buck and others trying to block that truth from coming to light, all to the detriment of free speech.”
But the shareholders’ lawyers wrote that Mr Chen already ruled that Mr Musk’s tweets were false and misleading, and “that no reasonable juror could conclude otherwise.”
Judge Chen’s order, issued April 1, was not in the public court file as of Sunday.
Adam Apton, a lawyer for the shareholders, said it was sealed because it has evidence that Mr Musk and Tesla say is confidential.