By Russ Mitchell
The company said it chose not to release the evidence to protect the privacy of its employees
Tesla claimed Randeep Hothi was a dangerous stalker who injured a security guard and endangered Tesla employees with his car. It asked a judge to slap Hothi with a restraining order.
But Tesla (TSLA) dropped the suit Friday after the judge ordered the company to turn over video and audio evidence to prove its case. The company said it chose not to release the evidence to protect the privacy of its employees, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday (https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-07-20/judge-told-tesla-to-release-evidence-in-short-seller-trial-instead-tesla-dropped-the-case).
In a letter to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Brand, Tesla said the employees suffered "unwanted publicity and online harassment" and that "production of their private conversations to Mr. Hothi would, in Tesla's view, inflict more damage by subjecting them to an unwarranted invasion of their privacy and further harassment."
It was Tesla, in the lawsuit, that had revealed the employees' names, not Hothi.
Hothi could not be reached for comment. He said outside the courtroom at an earlier hearing that Tesla was making up stories to smear him and shut him up. Video and audio evidence would clear him, he said. His attorney, Gill Sperlein, said he sent Tesla lawyers a letter Friday noting that his client plans to file a malicious prosecution suit against the company. The letter demands that Tesla retain all evidence.
"It's clear that this case was intended from the beginning to intimidate Mr. Hothi," Sperlein said. "He will not be intimidated. We will continue a dedicated search for the truth."
Hothi is a member of an online community known as $TslaQ, which uses Twitter to trade information about the company, most of it negative. Most members are short sellers, who bet that a company's stock price is overvalued and can make money when the stock price goes down.
A resident of Fremont and doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Hothi used cameras to monitor and document production levels at the Tesla automobile assembly plant there.
Tesla alleged that Hothi struck a security guard with his car in the factory's parking lot last February, and two months later used his car to threaten and endanger three Tesla employees testing a Model 3's Autopilot system on Interstate 880 between Fremont and Oakland. The employees, according to a court document filed by Tesla, feared that Hothi's "road conduct would cause a collision and injure them."
Hothi said he hit no one with his car. Fremont police reviewed security video of the alleged event and filed no charges.
A Tesla spokesman said Friday: "Tesla believes it has given Mr. Hothi clear notice not to enter Tesla's property, and Tesla will not hesitate to take legal action if he ever returns."