Judge Denies Elizabeth Holmes’ Defense Team's Request for Special Exemption Due to COVID-19

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Elizabeth Holmes' legal team is seeking special exemptions from the court for COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders in California in order to meet a July trial deadline. But, the judge denied that request due to safety concerns and, for now, refused to delay the start of the trial for wire fraud.  

On Wednesday, the judge overseeing Holmes’ case set for late July refused to change the trial date after her defense team made the request. Her team had sought to have their activities of trial preparation deemed "essential” by the judge. Attorney Lance Wade stressed that the stay-at-home orders were impacting trial preparation for the Holmes team. He argued that many of the functions for the defense team could not be performed remotely, including meeting with witnesses and serving subpoenas. Those activities, he said, “need to, under existing law, be performed in-person and some need to be performed now to keep the current schedule,” CNBC reported.

Holmes’ legal team filed a motion seeking an order that would allow them to travel during the pandemic in order to perform those activities they saw as necessary to prepare for the trial. The current orders from the government have hindered their abilities to carry out those activities, the legal team argued. Wade compared the obstacles created by the stay-at-home orders to climbing Mt. Everest, adding that “it’s close to impossible,” according to the report. In comparison, federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials have been deemed as “essential” employees, which provides them with greater freedom than their defense team counterparts. The prosecution has been able to serve subpoenas during the stay-at-home order due to their classification as “essential.”

“Trial-preparation tasks will require members of the defense team or agents we retain to undertake actions that public health officials have deemed to be inadvisable and/or unlawful,” Holmes’ team said in its filing, as reported by SiliconValley.com.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila though was not impressed by the Holmes’ team request. During a conference call between the legal teams, he lambasted the Holmes’ crew for “asking the court to violate other orders” during a national health crisis, SiliconValley.com reported.

“I guess I’m just concerned about the tone of your order. The tone of it is, ‘Well, Judge, if you want us to go forward with this hearing you’re going to have to order us to violate other jurisdictions’ orders and that’s what we’re asking you to do in a very publicly filed way,’” Judge Davila said.

The judge then told both sides to discuss what tasks can be accomplished easily during the crisis and allowed the defense team to interview witnesses over video-conferencing platforms. While Davila opted to not change the trial’s timeline at this point, he noted that option is available and could be used depending on the continuation of the pandemic and how that impacted a potential jury pool. The courthouse where the trial is set to be held in San Jose has been temporarily closed after a visitor tested positive for COVID-19, the disease causes by the novel coronavirus.

Holmes is facing criminal charges alongside Theranos’ former president and her former boyfriend, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The two have been charged with multiple counts of fraud. From 2013 to 2015 Holmes and Balwani raised more than $700 million from investors through what the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission called “years-long fraud” in which they exaggerated or lied about the efficacy of the company’s proprietary technology and the state of its finances, according to the complaint.

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