The federal court judge presiding over the felony fraud case of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes says community safety trumps the right to a speedy trial amid the coronavirus pandemic, so he’s again delaying her trial, now scheduled to start July 13 with jury selection.
“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 (Holmes), who wishes a speedy opportunity to defend against the charges,” Judge Edward Davila wrote in his order pushing the trial date for the third time. “These rights are important, but paramount to the court is the safety and health of the community.”
Lawyers for Holmes, who is charged with a dozen counts of fraud in connection with her now-defunct Palo Alto blood-testing startup, had in the spring sought to delay the trial when it was scheduled to start this past summer, citing the prospect of a mistrial if a participant in the proceedings caught the virus. Davila had set a new date, for this past October, before in August delaying the trial again, to March 2021.
In pushing the start of the trial in U.S. District Court in San Jose to next July, Davila said he had been closely tracking the impact of the pandemic across the country and in the Bay Area.
“The court notes sadly, the impact on our lives is grim,” Davila wrote in the order issued Friday. “California is in the midst of an unprecedented surge in cases and hospitalizations. Today alone, 300 lives were lost. Hospitals are nearing maximum capacity. These conditions will impact the jury panel and the public’s confidence in an in-person trial estimated to last several months.”
Davila noted that two COVID vaccines have been approved. “The court is hopeful conditions will improve significantly in the near future,” he wrote, adding that his decision to delay the trial was also based on “the need for effective preparation for trial due to the complexities of the case.”
Holmes and former Theranos president Sunny Balwani have denied federal government allegations that they misled doctors and patients and bilked investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Earlier this month, when the trial was set to start in March, Davila ruled that the proceedings would take place in person before a socially distanced jury, with the courthouse’s air filtration set to its highest level and other precautions in place. His order Friday didn’t change that plan.
Holmes faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine, plus possible restitution, the Department of Justice has said.