Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ trial on felony fraud charges will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Her trial was originally slated to start in just over a week and was then rescheduled to start in October due to virus concerns.
On Monday US District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California appeared in court by himself to announce another delay, citing risks the pandemic poses to participants.
He appeared alone in the courtroom with Holmes appearing via video-conference in a gray blazer.
Holmes launched her blood-testing company in 2003. She and her former boyfriend ex-Theranos president Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani are accused of falsely claiming the company’s machines could perform breakthrough blood tests with a single drop of blood, duping investors out of millions and misleading doctors and patients.
Theranos became a big name in Silicon Valley led with Holmes, a Steve Jobs-obsessed leader who wore black turtlenecks everyday like her Apple idol.
She attracted investors and venture capital firms and the company was valued at $9billion before crashing to the ground in 2015.
‘It is unrealistic that we’re going to go to trial on that date. It’s just not going to happen,’ Judge Davila said at the Monday status hearing, according to Mercury News.
Prosecutors have identified 170 witnesses from more than a dozen states who plan to testify and many come from coronavirus hotspots such as Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida.
According to current federal health guidance, witnesses who fly to California should quarantine for two weeks before testifying.
Furthermore, the four counties from which jurors will be drawn are all currently on the State of California’s coronavirus watch list. School closures would further affect jury selection.
‘The ability to get an impartial jury in this setting for a trial of this length is doubtful,’ Lance Wade, a lawyer for Holmes, said.
The biggest reason for the delay is for the safety of participants.
‘I look out and I try to envision what a jury trial for three months would look like here,’ Davila said. ‘I don’t know what is the Constitutional ramification of that.’
Holmes’ lawyer Wade said a new date should be chosen to ensure proceedings are safe ‘but also safe from a Constitutional standpoint where our client has all of the rights that she’s entitled to, given that her liberty is in jeopardy.’
Wade proposed Homes’ trial start in April.
Prosecutor Robert Leach said the government is ready for a fall start but says there’s a challenge when it comes to securing witnesses.
‘April of 2021 is too long. If the court is inclined to move the trial, it should move the trial to February.’
They also discussed the possibility of conducting the trial fully or partly via video. Wade said it was discussed with prosecutors and ‘we did not see a workable solution on a case of this size.’
An official new date has not been set.
Davila instructed the defense and prosecution to agree on a date for the next status conference.
Holmes, a Stanford University drop out, launched her Palo Alto blood-testing start up in 2003. She and Balwani are accused of scamming investors out of more than $700million.
They claimed their machines could conduct a full range of tests using a few drops of blood from a finger prick – but the technology was not able to, it was inaccurante and unreliable.
Both have denied the allegations. Lawyers for Holmes argued in December that the government’s case was ‘unconstitutionally vague’ and lacked specific claims of misrepresentation.