The rock star litigator who hopes to bring Elon Musk to justice

Bill Savitt’s colleagues at Wachtell, Lipton know when he’s at his deepest in crafting an intricate legal argument: They can hear him playing a Fender Telecaster electric guitar in his office.

In corporate law circles, Savitt is recognized as one of the best litigators in the US His specialty is representing top-tier boards of directors in complicated disputes in Delaware, the small state where most US companies are domiciled.

But his presence in high-stakes legal battles was not predetermined. After graduating from college, Savitt came to New York City in the late 1980s to play in various indie rock bands, paying his bills for a while by driving a cab. Some of the acts were good enough to score appearances at the famous CBGB club. However, as is the fate of most musicians, a proper career beckoned.

In the coming weeks, Savitt will have her turn in the legal spotlight. Twitter has hired him to head to Delaware and try to salvage its $44 billion deal with Elon Musk, who last week said he was walking away from his promise to buy the business.

A trial is expected in September and, unless an advance agreement is reached, he would give Savitt the concert of his life, with a rapt audience around the world and a chance to bring the world’s richest man to justice. .

Star lawyers can come off as boastful gunslingers in court. But both colleagues and opponents say this is not Savitt’s style at all. Rather he is a consistently deep thinker, prone to scribbling on sticky notes the ideas that will eventually fill his legal memoranda. His focus is intense enough that he avoids meals during the day, instead subsisting simply on almonds and sparkling water.

“Bill is not a fancy guy. He walks smoothly and carries a large stick. He doesn’t need to scream. He doesn’t need to be too dramatic. When he heads to court he sees the laid back nature of him. He is charming,” said William Lafferty, a longtime Delaware attorney. “Bill has a good view of the big picture and that’s really what matters to the Delaware judges. How does this case fit into the fabric of our law?”

Another rival attorney described Savitt as a “professor” for his encyclopedic mastery of the Delaware precedents.

It was a case representing private equity titan KKR that cemented Savitt’s status as a superstar and also changed a significant aspect of corporate law.

In 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld Savitt’s thesis that a company that sold itself could immediately defeat an allegation of breach of fiduciary duty if shareholders were fully informed of the circumstances of the deal and then voted to approve it. .

At one point, Savitt almost became a full-time academic. After his rock and roll interlude, he enrolled in a graduate program at Columbia University to study French legal history. He later also went to law school, although he decided not to finish his thesis. After law school came an internship for a federal appeals court and then a year clerking for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (during court hearings on the pandemic on Zoom, viewers were able to see a photo of Savitt and Bader Ginsburg behind his desk).

In 1999, he joined the legal powerhouse Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Wachtell had made a name for himself in the 1980s, both by advising companies during the corporate raider mania and by being in the midst of legal fights in Delaware that would be crucial in defining corporate governance standards across the United States. .

Throughout his career, Savitt has defended companies from shareholders who claimed they had been misled in takeovers, protected boards that had been besieged by activist investors, and even helped companies seeking to opt out of takeover contracts. signed.

In 2017, a federal judge canceled the ill-fated mega-merger of two US health insurers, Cigna and Anthem, on competition grounds. Cigna, Savitt’s client, was apparently owed a $1.85 billion termination fee. Anthem resisted. In 2019, a long trial took place in Delaware.

In a scathing opinion, a judge later ruled that Cigna had sabotaged the merger deal. He had waged what he called a “covert communications campaign” to ensure its collapse, enlisting the assistance of Wachtell and the public relations firm Teneo. The result, affirmed by the Delaware Supreme Court, left Cigna empty-handed and Wachtell distraught.

To prevail in his current mission, Savitt must prove that the saboteur is Elon Musk. According to Twitter’s complaint, the Tesla founder’s cold feet stem from the recent collapse in tech company valuations and that his “bad faith” is clearly evident in his tweets criticizing Twitter to tens of millions of followers.

Wachtell’s tight-knit team is now working around the clock to prepare for the legal showdown ahead. And Savitt’s peers are nearly unanimous in their belief that Twitter has picked the person who can hit all the right notes in court.

Christine Mackintosh, a pillar in Delaware legal circles who has previously clashed with both Savitt and Musk, said: “If anyone can hold Elon accountable for his conduct here, it’s Bill.”

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