Elizabeth Holmes will face 'a very different trial' because of COVID-19, judge says

Alexis Keenan
·Reporter
·3-min read

The long-anticipated criminal trial for Elizabeth Holmes is slated to go forward in a style as unconventional as the embattled founder of the now-defunct blood-testing startup Theranos.

During a videoconference hearing attended by Holmes, her attorneys, and federal prosecutors Wednesday, Judge Edward J. Davila laid out pandemic-related accommodations needed for the government’s wire fraud case to proceed against Holmes, once proclaimed the youngest female self-made billionaire.

“I will be able to secure clear face masks for witnesses,” Davila told the parties. The judge also shared a reconfigured courtroom layout that would permit the 14 jurors, litigants, and witnesses to remain 6 feet apart during the proceedings scheduled to take at least five months.

“One of the other protocols we have looked at in the Northern District is providing air filtration at the witness stand,” Davila said. “The issue is...what do we do as far as cleanup, if you will, after — sanitizing after a witness testifies?”

The extra precautions are expected to slow the pace of the already delayed and presumably protracted trial of Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison after prosecutors charged her more than two years ago with perpetuating a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors.

“It's going to be a very different trial of course in the COVID timeframe,” Davila said.

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, arrives for motion hearing on Monday, November 4, 2019, at the U.S. District Court House inside Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose, California. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, arrives for motion hearing on Monday, November 4, 2019, at the U.S. District Court House inside Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose, California. (Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach said he expected the government’s case to take 2 months, subject to variables. Holmes’ attorney, Lance Wade, said he expected the defense case to take 3 to 4 months.

The most significant potential for delay

Questions remain over how the court should handle physical evidence, including hardcopy documents typically allowed to be passed between lawyers, witnesses, and jurors.

“Those present some issues in regards to the COVID situation, of course,” Davila said. “I don't know if there'll be any request for the jury to actually see or handle a document, or an item of evidence, but please be cognizant of that ...”

Perhaps presenting the most significant potential for delay is the inability of the trial to continue if jurors, witnesses, litigants, the judge, or other critical parties, fall ill and can no longer participate or must remain in quarantine.

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 17:  Former Theranos COO Ramesh Balwani appears in federal court for a status hearing on July 17, 2019 in San Jose, California. Former founder of Theranos Elizabeth Homes and Balwani are facing charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly engaging in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors with the Theranos blood testing lab services.  (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)
Former Theranos COO Ramesh Balwani appears in federal court for a status hearing on July 17, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images)

“We'll have to establish some protocol and of course we'll listen to what happens if somebody becomes ill,” Davila said.

Holmes’ attorney, Wade, raised concerns about trial participants who are considered high risk and may not feel comfortable attending the trial.

Holmes is charged with using her blood diagnostics company to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Her company raised nearly $1 billion from private investors and business partnerships before it was forced by government regulators to cease its operations.

Her former romantic partner and former co-defendant, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who served in various executive roles for Theranos, is scheduled to be tried separately, following the conclusion of Holmes case.

According to prosecutors, Holmes misrepresented to investors that Theranos’s proprietary analyzer known as the TSPU, Edison, or miniLab was presently capable of accomplishing a full range of accurate and reliable clinical tests using small blood samples drawn from a finger stick.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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