© Reuters. Elon Musk’s Twitter profile is seen on a smartphone atop printed Twitter logos in this illustration taken April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
By Tom Halls
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Billionaire Elon Musk’s tendency to slur while being questioned under oath will be tested again this week, when lawyers for Twitter Inc. (NYSE:) is set to interview the CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc about his abrupt decision in July to drop his $44 billion deal for the social media company.
Testifying in past legal battles, the world’s richest person called opposing lawyers “reprehensible”, questioned their happiness and accused them of “extortion”. He asked a lawyer if he was working on a contingency because the lawyer’s client was behind on child support payments.
“So you’re probably on a contingency where you’re taking that kid’s money. Which one is it?” Musk asked a lawyer for a whistleblower in a case against Tesla, according to a 2020 transcript of the deposition.
The high-stakes Twitter interview is closed to the public. A court filing last week said Musk’s deposition was to begin Monday and end Wednesday, if required. Sources with knowledge of the deposition said Musk was not interviewed on Monday and they did not know what day it would start or gave a reason for the delay.
Musk’s attorneys will want to keep him focused on answering questions, but that can be a challenge with such a smart and opinionated witness, said James Morsch, a corporate attorney who isn’t involved in the court battle.
“I would compare it to trying to hold a tiger by its tail,” Morsch said.
In a 2019 deposition in litigation over Tesla’s takeover of solar panel maker SolarCity, Musk five times refused to answer one of the original questions because of the way it was worded, according to the transcription.
“We can watch each other until you rephrase it,” Musk told opposing attorney Randall Baron, according to a transcript.
“I guess we’ll just cancel that deposition,” Baron replied. Baron suggested he would seek an order from the judge ordering Musk to answer questions, which seemed to get things moving.
Twitter declined to comment, and Musk’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter lawyers should use the interview to try to show that Musk abandoned the deal because of the fall in financial markets and not because the company misled him about the real number of users or hid security flaws, as he alleged.
Musk wants a judge to let him walk away without penalty, while Twitter wants an order to buy the company for $54.20 a share. Twitter’s stock ended up 0.4% at $41.58 on Friday.
A five-day trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 17 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Dozens of depositions are expected in the case, including that of Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, as each side interviews witnesses and gathers evidence to make their case.
Agrawal was scheduled to take questions from Musk’s lawyers at a law office in San Francisco beginning at 9 a.m. local time on Monday, according to a court filing, although sources said the deposition was also postponed. and did not give a reason.
Twitter co-founder and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was due to be deposed last week.
WHAT IS THE WHOLE TRUTH
Musk has occasionally shown in his depositions the charm and wit he displays on Twitter, where he has built a cult following.
The deposition atmosphere on Twitter could be particularly tense. Its legal team includes law firms Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and lead attorney on the case, Bill Savitt, initially represented Musk and Tesla in the SolarCity deal, but not during the discovery and depositions in the litigation.
Savitt did not respond to a request for comment.
Twitter is also represented by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
A constant in the three depositions reviewed by Reuters is Musk’s aversion to lawyers representing the opposing side, whom he accuses of “deception” and simply suing him for money.
“I heard yesterday that 3% of the American economy is legal services. That’s one of the saddest facts I’ve heard in a long time,” Musk told Baron, the attorney. of SolarCity’s deposition.
The deposition in the litigation with Tesla whistleblower Martin Tripp, who accused the company of wasting raw materials, began by asking Musk if he understood the oath he had sworn to testify honestly.
“It sounds like some kind of legalese, semantic argument. The — what’s the whole truth about something?” Musk asked, according to the transcript. “You say, ‘Is that a tree? What kind of tree is that? Is that a tree with lots of leaves?’ Or is that — if you say something is a tree, is that the whole truth? No, of course not.”
Tripp’s attorney reminded Musk that the judge had warned that he would oversee the deposition in person if the questions weren’t answered correctly.
“Do you intend to comply with the judge’s warning there?” asked attorney William Fishbach.
“Of course,” Musk said.