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Lawyer who helped Musk beat defamation suit now will take on Tesla investors

Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., leaves the U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Los Angeles during his defamation trial.
(Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

A Manhattan trial lawyer who helped Elon Musk defeat a defamation lawsuit by a British caver is now set to defend the Tesla Inc. chief executive in a fight with his shareholders.

Alex Spiro, a partner in the New York office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, joined Musk’s legal team Monday, according to a filing in Delaware Chancery Court where Musk is scheduled to go on trial.

Last month, Tesla’s directors, except Musk, agreed to a $60-million settlement to resolve the lawsuit over the company’s 2016 purchase of SolarCity. The accord left Musk, Tesla’s largest shareholder, to battle alone against investors who complain that Tesla overpaid for SolarCity.

Judge Joseph Slights III is to hear the case in Wilmington without a jury, which is normal in the Chancery Court. The 10-day trial is scheduled to begin March 16.

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Critics of the deal have called the acquisition a bailout of a troubled solar-panel installer rife with corporate-governance conflicts. Pension funds had accused Musk of failing to disclose that SolarCity was in deep financial trouble when he urged shareholders to approve the deal.

Spiro, a former prosecutor, lists rapper Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and several NBA players, including ex-Knick Charles Oakley, as former clients.

In December, he persuaded a federal jury in Los Angeles to return a verdict for Musk in less than an hour. In his closing statement, the 37-year-old litigator shredded the allegation that British caver Vernon Unsworth was defamed when Musk called him a “pedo guy” in a tweet. The two were embroiled in a spat over the rescue of a Thai boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave the previous year.

“Everyone’s complicated in their own way,” Spiro said in an interview on Bloomberg radio after the Unsworth verdict. “We’re all psychological beings, but Elon is a very honest and direct person and I’ve gotten to know him very well.”

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Spiro is also involved in Tesla’s lawsuit against former employee Martin Tripp. The company sued Tripp, claiming he hacked its computer systems and stole its secrets. Tripp filed a whistle-blower complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claiming Tesla used faulty batteries.


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