High-profile defamation cases rarely go before US courts, but count on eccentric billionaire Elon Musk to find himself in just such a predicament. The suit was brought by a British man whom Musk called a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
The defamation trial kicked off on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, with jury selection. Questions that would-be jurors faced to determine their bias or lack thereof proved to be very detailed and quite unusual.
Among other things, they were asked about their attitude towards billionaires – of which Musk is one – and their views about people living in Thailand, such as the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth. The potential jurors were quizzed on the Tesla ownership as well.
The entire sordid saga goes back to July 2018 and the dramatic rescue of a Thai youth soccer team and their coach from a flooded cave they had been exploring. Musk built a miniature submarine to contribute to the rescue effort, yet he was too late to see whether it would work as the stranded team was rescued before the contraption was actually deployed.
Musk’s efforts were harshly criticized by Unsworth, a professional diver in his sixties, who played one of the leading roles in the daring rescue. The diver dismissed Musk’s
submarine-building quest as a publicity stunt that would never actually work in
reality, and told the billionaire to “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
The Tesla CEO reacted angrily to Unsworth’s comments, branding him a “pedo guy.” He later issued an apology to the Brit and deleted the tweet – after Unsworth threatened to file a lawsuit against him.
However, Musk then doubled down, calling Unsworth a “child rapist” in emails to a BuzzFeed reporter and taunting the diver on Twitter by asking why he hadn’t filed a defamation suit yet. So Unsworth did just that.
Musk’s legal team tried to get the case dismissed, arguing that the billionaire’s statements were not actually accusations of pedophilia, but mere insults meaning a “creepy old guy,” intended to accuse Unsworth of “milking” his five minutes of fame and looking for easy money. Such efforts proved to be futile, as the case ultimately ended up in court.
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