Elon Musk’s Fate Is in the Hands of This Federal Judge

(Bloomberg) -- The question of whether Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk is in contempt of court for recent tweets falls to Alison Nathan, a federal judge in Manhattan appointed by former President Barack Obama.

Nathan is weighing a request by the Securities and Exchange Commission to hold Musk in contempt for violating a settlement with the regulator, which she previously approved, that requires him to seek pre-approval to tweet material information about Tesla. The SEC claims he violated the order with a tweet about production forecasts for the company’s electric vehicles.

If Nathan finds him in contempt, she could impose new fines and restrictions on his social media activity. She could even ban Musk from running the company, though legal experts think that’s unlikely. Musk is scheduled to file an additional response to the SEC’s claim on Friday.

Nathan was randomly assigned to the case. Her other cases have included the following:

  • In 2017, the judge suppressed thousands of pages of documents she said were illegally seized by FBI agents in a 2012 search of the home and office of Benjamin Wey, founder of the private equity firm New York Global Group. The ruling forced prosecutors to drop fraud charges against Wey.
  • Nathan agreed in 2017 with the SEC to hold Anvil Partners, a Buffalo, New York, investment adviser, in contempt of court for failing to obey her order to respond to an agency subpoena. Nathan ordered Anvil and its majority owner, Jeremy Beck, to pay $250 per day until they complied. She also ordered the arrest of Beck and release on $10,000 bail.
  • In 2014, Nathan barred Aereo Inc., an online video provider backed by Barry Diller, from streaming live television to subscribers, following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the service violated broadcasters’ copyrights. Aereo was soon forced to liquidate in bankruptcy court.

Nathan’s Resume:

  • Nathan, 46, one of the first openly gay women on the federal bench, was born in Philadelphia. She attended Cornell University and Cornell Law School, where she was editor in chief of the school’s law review, a prestigious position reserved for top students.
  • She then worked as a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge in California before clerking for Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Nathan worked for a private firm, taught law and was an adviser to Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. She later joined the Obama White House as an associate counsel and special assistant to the president, then served as special counsel to New York’s solicitor general, the top lawyer handling appeals for the state.
  • She was confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench by a 48-44, party-line Senate vote after receiving last-minute opposition from conservative activists. Republicans expressed concern about Nathan’s lack of courtroom experience, at age 39, and views on the death penalty, gun rights and the relevance of foreign law in deciding Constitutional questions.

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