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

Bill Savitt’s colleagues at Wachtell, Lipton know when he’s in the deep end of crafting a complex legal argument: They can hear him jamming in his office on a Fender Telecaster electric guitar.

In corporate law circles, Savitt is recognized as one of the top litigators in the United States. His specialty is representing blue-chip boards of directors in complicated disputes in Delaware, the small state where most American corporations are domiciled.

But his presence in high-stakes legal battles was not predestined. 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 time by driving a cab. Some of the acts were good enough to score appearances at famed club CBGB. Yet, as is the fate of most musicians, a real career was needed.

In the weeks to come, Savitt will have his turn in the legal spotlight. Twitter hired him to go to Delaware and try to salvage its $44 billion deal with Elon Musk, who last week said he was backing down from his promise to buy the company.

A trial is scheduled for September and, unless settled in advance, would give Savitt the gig of his life, with delighted audiences around the world and the opportunity to bring the richest man to heel. of the world.

Star lawyers can appear as swaggering gunslingers in court. But both colleagues and opponents say that’s not Savitt’s style at all. On the contrary, he is an ever-deep thinker, prone to jotting down on sticky notes the ideas that will eventually fill his legal memos. His focus is intense enough that during the day he avoids meals, instead feeding simply on almonds and sparkling water.

“Bill is not a flamboyant guy. He walks slowly and carries a big stick. He doesn’t need to shout. It doesn’t need to be overly dramatic. When he addresses the court, you see his relaxed nature. It’s disarming,” said William Lafferty, a longtime Delaware attorney. “Bill has a good overview and that’s really what matters to the Delaware judges. How does this single case fit into the fabric of our law?

Another rival attorney described Savitt as a “teacher” for his encyclopedic mastery of previous Delaware cases.

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

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

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. Later, he also went to law school, but he chose not to complete his thesis. After law school, there was an internship for a federal appeals court, then a year as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (during pandemic court hearings on Zoom, the viewers could see a photo of Savitt and Bader Ginsburg displayed 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 for advising corporations during corporate raid mania and for standing amid the legal fights in Delaware that would become crucial in defining governance standards. business across America.

Throughout his career, Savitt has defended companies against shareholders who claimed they were deceived in acquisitions, protected boards that had been besieged by activist investors, and even helped companies seeking to evade contracts. of acquisition signed.

In 2017, a federal judge struck down the cursed mega-merger of two US health insurers, Cigna and Anthem, on competition grounds. Cigna, Savitt’s client, apparently owed termination fees of $1.85 billion. The anthem sulked. A lengthy trial in Delaware ensued in 2019.

In a searing notice, a judge later ruled that Cigna sabotaged the merger deal. He had waged what he called a “secret communications campaign” to ensure his collapse, relying on the help of Wachtell and the public relations firm Teneo. The result, upheld by the Delaware Supreme Court, left Cigna empty-handed and Wachtell anguished.

To prevail in his current mission, Savitt must demonstrate that the saboteur is Elon Musk. According to Twitter’s complaint, the Tesla founder’s cold feet stem from the recent crash in tech company valuations and that his “bad faith” is clearly apparent in his tweets trashing 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 picked the person who can hit all the right notes in court.

Christine Mackintosh, a stalwart 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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