Elon Musk’s Tesla Asked Law Firm to fire SEC Associate: WSJ

At the end of last year, a partner at the law firm Cooley LLP received an unexpected call from a lawyer for one of the firm’s most famous clients, Elon Musk‘s Tesla Inc.., with an ultimatum.

The richest man in the world wanted Cooley, who represented Tesla in several lawsuits, to fire one of his lawyers, otherwise it would lose electric vehicle company business, people said familiar with the matter.

The goal for Mr. Musk’s anger was a former United States Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer, whom Cooley had hired for his securities cases and enforcement practices, and who was not involved in the firm’s work for Tesla. At the SEC, the lawyer had interviewed Mr Musk during the agency’s investigation into Tesla’s CEO tweet from 2018, in which he erroneously claimed to have secured funding to potentially take the electric car maker private.

The investigation resulted in a settlement in which Mr Musk agreed to resign as chairman and pay a $ 20 million fine. He also agreed to have a Tesla lawyer review prior tweets on certain topics, including the company’s financial results, sales figures and proposed business combinations.

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Cooley has refused to fire the lawyer, who remains associated with the firm, people said. Since early December, Tesla has begun taking steps in several cases to replace Cooley or add additional advisers, legal documents show. Mr. Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX, has stopped using Cooley for regulatory work, according to people familiar with the matter.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk (Associated Press / AP Newsroom)

Neither Tesla, SpaceX nor Mr. Musk responded to requests for comment.

The interaction with Cooley points to a larger pattern for Mr. Musk: He has long rejected regulators, and he has recently directed his anger at individuals affiliated with regulatory agencies with whom he has sparred.

He often expresses his dissatisfaction on Twitter, where he has about 70 million followers. His comments often lead to an online army gathering for his cause.

In the fall, he turned his gaze to a longtime critic of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance technology, Mary “Missy” Cummings, a researcher on how people interact with autonomous systems, who was appointed as an advisor to the top US car safety regulator.

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The agency had just opened an investigation into Tesla’s advanced driver assistance technology following a series of crashes in which Teslas crashed into one or more parked emergency vehicles. Such probes could lead to recalls, and this turned out to be one of the agency’s most comprehensive studies to date of advanced driver assistance technology.

Dr. Cummings, an engineering professor at Duke University, had been critical of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot. A study published last year, which she co-authored, showed that the company’s technology, which does not make vehicles autonomous, worked inconsistently.

Tesla owners, Tesla employees and local political leaders gather at the Gulf of Service doors during an event on September 9, 2021. (Associated Press / AP Newsroom)

Tesla has said that it is safer to drive with the autopilot activated than to drive without it.

Mr. Musk, when her appointment became public, tweeted: “Objectively, her track record is extremely biased toward Tesla.” A barrage of online attacks on Dr. Cummings from Tesla supporters followed, several of them vulgar.

A petition launched on Change.org called on the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to revoke her appointment due to a perceived conflict of interest. The petition, which has since been removed from the platform, received tens of thousands of signatures.

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In the wake of the call, the agency privately demanded that Dr. Cummings should relinquish Tesla-specific conditions, according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed Dr. Cummings’ rejection. She did not answer a question about whether the criticism on social media influenced the decision.

It is not uncommon for companies to come into conflict with officials whom they fear will harm their interests, whether it is through campaign contributions to influence public policy or legal action. Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook, now Meta Platforms Inc., have unsuccessfully sought the dismissal of Federal Trade Commission President Lina Khan from antitrust cases involving the companies. Before taking on the role, Mrs Khan had been critical of the online giants.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, stands on a stage at the Tesla Gigafactory in Brandenburg, Germany, on October 9, 2021. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Sir. Musk stands out for expressing his criticism in sharp, sometimes derogatory and public remarks.

Mr. Musk has said he agrees with regulators 99.9% of the time. “In rare cases, we disagree. This is almost always due to new technologies that previous rules did not foresee,” he tweeted last year.

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Early in the pandemic, Mr Musk targeted a senior California health official over government orders that the company’s automobile assembly plant in Fremont, California, remain closed to slow the spread of Covid-19.

“Tesla is immediately suing Alameda County. The unelected and ignorant” Interim Health Officer “from Alameda is acting contrary to the governor, the president, our constitutional freedoms and common sense!” Mr. Musk tweeted. The company later sued the county.

Two days later, he said Tesla resumed production despite local authorities. Shortly after, the county approved Tesla to increase activity at the factory. A spokeswoman for the county’s public health department said Mr Musk’s public criticism did not affect the county’s decision to greenerturn on the Tesla activity.

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