Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has enlisted another high-profile defense lawyer to defend against a defamation lawsuit brought by the British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth—the man Musk referred to as a “pedo guy” on Twitter following the rescue last year of a youth soccer team from a cave in Thailand.
Musk has so far in the case been represented by a team from Hueston Hennigan in Los Angeles led by partner John Hueston. But on Wednesday Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan New York partner Alex Spiro made an appearance on the docket.
Spiro, who is known for representing entertainers and athletes, has been in the spotlight of late for his defense of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who is fighting charges of paying for sex at a Florida massage parlor. Spiro also has represented rapper Jay-Z in litigation with the company that purchased his Rocawear apparel brand and tennis star Naomi Osaka in a suit brought by a Florida trainer who claims he’s owed 20% of her lifetime earnings.
Reached by phone Thursday, Spiro declined to comment on Musk’s case.
Musk’s lawyers at Hueston Hennigan lawyers have been defending him in a separate matter involving his Twitter habits: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Musk of running afoul of the federal securities law when he tweeted last year “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” He and Tesla promptly settled with the SEC for $40 million—$20 million each. The Hueston Hennigan team took over the representation of Musk from Williams & Connolly as the SEC pursued contempt sanctions related to tweets the CEO posted that the agency claimed violated the settlement agreement. Musk ultimately agreed to a more specific list of what he can and cannot tweet about without “preapproval of an experienced securities lawyer employed by the company,” but denied wrongdoing and faced no further fine.
Hueston Hennigan’s John Hueston didn’t immediately respond to a message Thursday asking what his firm’s role will be in Unsworth’s defamation case going forward.
Unsworth sued Musk with counsel from defamation specialist L. Lin Wood after Unsworth and Musk both volunteered as part of the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach, who were stranded in a flooded cave last summer. Musk lashed out at Unsworth on Twitter last July after the caver gave a critical interview to CNN claiming that a submersible tube Musk designed for the rescue was a “PR stunt.”
“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves,” wrote Musk, in a since-deleted Tweet, before asking Unsworth to provide video of the rescue. “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it,” he added.
According to the lawsuit filed in the Central District of California, Musk continued to press his allegations that Unsworth was a pedophile with a journalist from Buzzfeed, which resulted in further coverage.
“As one of the highest-profile and wealthiest individuals in the world, Musk knew that these accusations against Mr. Unsworth would be conveyed to a worldwide audience and would result in the accusations receiving massive publicity,” wrote Unsworth’s lawyer Wood. Wood was joined on the complaint by attorneys at his Atlanta-based law firm and Robert Christopher Chatham of the Chatham Law Group in Los Angeles.