A California federal court judge overseeing the case against disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has announced that the trial date will be pushed back by several months as the state, and the country, continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila, who is presiding over the San Jose-based wire fraud case against Holmes, said in court papers filed late last week that the one-time billionaire’s trial is now expected to begin on July 13, 2021 – four months later than the March date that had previously been set.
“The court has been vigilant in keeping informed as to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the nation and the state and in day to day life in the San Francisco bay area,” Davila wrote in court papers filed Dec. 18. “The court notes sadly, the impact on our lives is grim.”
Davila went on to describe how the Golden State is in the midst of “an unprecedented surge in cases and hospitalizations.”
As of Thursday morning, the United States had reported at least 18,495,851 COVID-19 cases and 326,871 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
California has reported the highest number of cases with 2,010,485 positive COVID-19 tests reported; 23,660 Californians have died, data show.
Davila acknowledged the importance of Holmes’s trial, but that the risk was too great.
“The court recognizes that a continuance of the trial will cause great inconvenience to victims who would like their day in court, as well as defendant, who wishes a speedy opportunity to defend against the charges,” he wrote. “All of these rights are important, but paramount to the court is the safety and health of the community.”
Holmes founded Theranos in Palo Alto, Calif., 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.
Prosecutors allege that Holmes and former chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” 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, when she agreed to pay $500,000 to settle charges that she oversaw a “massive fraud.”
Under an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time, Holmes was barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years.
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.
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.
Davila warned earlier in the month that attorneys and defendants should expect “a very different trial of course in the COVID timeframe,” Yahoo Finance reported. He previously outlined plans for how the trial would move forward while remaining in accordance with virus-related guidelines.
“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?”
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 jurist said, according to the news site.
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.
He also said he had concerns regarding the circulation of physical evidence and documents that would usually be shared or sent around during the proceedings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.