Federal judge in Elizabeth Holmes' trial outlines coronavirus-related courtroom changes as preparations forge ahead

Witnesses will wear clear face masks, and the courtroom will be reconfigured as part of COVID-19 protocols

A California federal court judge overseeing the case against disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has begun making plans for how the trial will move forward while remaining in accordance with novel coronavirus-related guidelines for the courtroom, according to a recent report.

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U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila, who is presiding over the San Jose-based wire fraud case against Holmes and Theranos’ former chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, warned that attorneys and defendants can expect “a very different trial of course in the COVID timeframe,” Yahoo Finance reported.

Davila outlined the plans during a Wednesday hearing conducted via video conference.

“I will be able to secure clear face masks for witnesses,” Davila said, according to the report. He said the Northern District of California is also considering providing air filtration in the area of the witness stand. “The issue is ... what do we do as far as cleanup, if you will, after — sanitizing after a witness testifies?”

Elizabeth Holmes (Reuters); Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani (Getty Images)

The layout of the courtroom will be changed to ensure the 14-person jury and all other parties will be able to follow social distancing guidelines, the news site reported.

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One of the more prominent concerns was the reality that a juror, defense attorneys, prosecutors or even Davila could fall ill during the trial and be unable to proceed or become exposed and be required to quarantine.

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

Davila also said he has concerns regarding the circulation of physical evidence and documents that would usually be shared or sent around during the proceedings.

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“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,” he said, “but please be cognizant of that.”

According to Yahoo Finance, the trial is expected to run at least five months, with defense attorneys estimating they will need three to four months. Prosecutors reportedly expect their case to last two months.

Holmes's trial is slated to begin in March 2021.

Then-Theranos Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Holmes speaks on stage at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards where she received an award, in New York, NY. November 9, 2015. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Prosecutors allege that Holmes and Balwani deliberately misled investors, policymakers and the public about the accuracy of Theranos’ blood-testing technologies.

The two pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, they could each face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison, a $2.75 million fine and possible restitution, the Department of Justice said.

Holmes, a Stanford University dropout once billed as the “next Steve Jobs,” forfeited control of the blood-testing startup in 2018.

Two years earlier, the SEC, prompted by a Wall Street Journal investigation, began looking into claims Theranos had made about its potentially revolutionary blood-testing technology.

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The Journal quoted former employees that suspected the technology was a fraud, and it found that the company was using routine blood-testing equipment for the vast majority of its tests. The story raised concerns about the accuracy of Theranos’ blood-testing technology, which put patients at risk of having conditions either misdiagnosed or ignored.

Holmes founded Theranos in Palo Alto, California, in 2003, pitching the company’s technology as a cheaper way to run dozens of blood tests. She said she was inspired to start the company in response to her fear of needles.

Theranos raised millions in startup funding by promoting its tests as costing a “fraction” of what other labs charge.

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In late 2016, Theranos began shutting down its clinical labs and wellness centers and laid off more than 40% of its full-time employees. The company reportedly ceased operations in September 2018, months after Holmes stepped down as chief executive.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.