Elizabeth Holmes' defense lawyers are asking their work in the Theranos fraud case be deemed 'essential' so they can defy lockdown orders

Elizabeth Holmes' defense lawyers are asking their work in the Theranos fraud case be deemed 'essential' so they can defy lockdown orders

Elizabeth Holmes

  • The federal trial in the criminal case against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of failed blood-testing startup Theranos, is scheduled to start in July.
  • Holmes' lawyers recently asked the judge to rule the case as "essential," so that the defense team would be allowed to defy shelter-in-place orders and continue working to prepare for trial.
  • The judge told the lawyers in a recent telephone hearing he was "taken aback" by their demands, and declined to decide yet on whether he would delay the Theranos case.
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The lawyers defending Elizabeth Holmes, the founder behind the infamous blood-testing startup Theranos, are asking their case be deemed "essential," which would allow the defense team to defy multiple lockdown orders put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted in the criminal trial scheduled to begin in July. Defense attorneys say that under current shelter-in-place guidelines issued by several states, much of the work they need to do to prepare for the trial is considered "unlawful" and cannot be done "effectively," according to court documents.

The coronavirus pandemic has led many states - including California, where the trial is taking place and Holmes lives - to issue shelter-in-place orders for residents, close non-essential businesses, and prohibit public gatherings. Holmes' attorneys have asked that their work be considered "essential activities," which would allow them to be exempt from statewide orders and continue to travel, meet face-to-face, and interview witnesses.

However, the judge overseeing the case doesn't appear to be sympathetic to the defense's pleas. In a telephone hearing last week, federal judge Edward Davila reportedly told defense lawyers he was "taken aback" by their filing.


"I have to tell you: I was a little concerned about your filing basically asking the court to violate other orders," Davila said, according to Politico. "The tone of it is: 'Judge, if you want us to go forward, you're going to have order us to violate other jurisdictions' orders and that's what we are asking you to do in a very public way - a very publicly filed way.'"

Additionally, the firm Holmes' lawyers work for issued a statement last month saying it had "carefully prepared for a crisis of this kind," and that its attorneys would be able to do their work "uninterrupted."

Meanwhile, the federal prosecutors in the case are allowed to forgo travel restrictions and lockdown orders. US attorney general William Barr issued a memo March 20 that federal attorneys were allowed to continue their work uninhibited.

Once the CEO of multi-billion dollar blood-testing company Theranos, Holmes now is facing multiple federal charges of fraud stemming from allegations that she schemed to defraud the startup's investors, its doctors, and its patients while knowing that its test results were inaccurate and unreliable. At her peak, Holmes was lauded as "the next Steve Jobs" and was worth $4.5 billion.

The Department of Justice charged Holmes and Sunny Balwani, Theranos' former president, in June 2018, and both have pleaded not guilty. Although the pair - who hid that they were romantically involved for much of the time they headed Theranos - were charged together, the judge in the case ruled in March the two would stand trial separately, with Holmes going first.


Although there is no blanket directive covering federal courts nationwide, many districts and states have postponed trials and limited in-person proceedings. The federal court in San Jose, California - where Holmes' case is supposed to take place - is closed until at least April 7 because a visitor to the courthouse tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus disease.

Davila, the judge overseeing the case, declined to immediately decide whether he would delay the trial. Jury selection is scheduled to start the week of July 28. Another telephone hearing is planned for April 15 for lawyers on both sides to provide an update.

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