How Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes got to trial as jury selection starts

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes headed to court Tuesday, as her legal team sought to help assemble a group of impartial jurors to weigh the criminal-fraud charges filed against her, a task her lawyers say is challenging, given her case’s notoriety.

Holmes’s legal team and prosecutors with the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of California have been scrutinizing a pool of nearly 200 potential jurors to find the 17 needed to serve on the four-month-long trial.

The onetime Silicon Valley star faces a dozen counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for what prosecutors say were misleading statements made to investors and patients about Theranos’s technology. She has pleaded not guilty.

Government lawyers will set out to prove at the trial that Holmes intended to defraud the two groups. Holmes could argue that she believed in Theranos’s technology and that the company was on its way to living up to its promises.

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Holmes could also raise an argument that pits her against Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos’s onetime president, who was charged alongside her. Balwani, who also has pleaded not guilty, faces a separate trial early next year.

Court documents revealed over the weekend show Holmes could argue that she was locked in a psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abusive relationship with Balwani and that her deference to him meant she believed what they were telling investors and patients was true. Balwani’s lawyer said he unequivocally denies his client engaged in any abuse.

The documents were unsealed in a response to a legal challenge by Wall Street Journal and Financial News publisher, Dow Jones.

An initial round of jury vetting included asking each would-be juror to answer 68 detailed written questions about their lifestyle, hobbies, media exposure and experience with the criminal justice system. Other questions concerned jurors’ comfort level sitting in a courtroom during a pandemic and whether they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The questionnaire revealed that around half of the prospective jurors had some knowledge of Holmes or Theranos, lawyers said in court last week. The company’s rise and 2018 collapse were widely chronicled through news reports, a book, podcasts and TV documentaries.

Potential jurors were asked to list all of their sources of news, broken down into categories, including newspapers, social media, television, radio, the internet and conversations. They were also asked whether they or anyone close to them had suffered a monetary loss because of a financial investment, whether they owned or rented their homes and what they did for a living. They were asked if they knew anyone who worked in fields that included finance, health insurance and blood testing. The questionnaire didn’t include any queries about sexual abuse or domestic violence.

US District Judge Edward Davila, who is overseeing the trial in San Jose, California, said exposure to the Theranos story alone wasn’t enough to cut potential jurors from serving in the case, if they otherwise said they felt they could be fair and impartial.

Jury consultants said the judge’s attitude is a common one in cases that have received widespread publicity because it is virtually impossible —  and in some ways, unappealing —  to find enough jurors who are totally tuned out of news coverage.

The art of jury selection involves trying to assess a potential juror’s beliefs and attitudes and whether those would play into a particular side. In court this week, jurors will be asked additional questions, and each side will be able to cut jurors they see as bad to its case.

“Jury selection is really deselection,” said Ann Greeley, a litigation consultant based in Pennsylvania. Holmes’s side will be looking to get rid of people with fixed attitudes about the case, Greeley said, and those who think someone charged with a crime must have done something wrong.

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The defense could also look for people who could identify with Holmes, including those who are risk takers or value entrepreneurship or who would relate to the claims she could be making against Balwani.

Prosecutors will be looking for people who appreciate rules and regulations, consultants said, and who are likely to be sympathetic to patients testifying about erroneous Theranos results.

Jury selection is expected to take two days, with opening statements slated to begin 8 September. Weeks of testimony could come from former Theranos employees, investors, patients, doctors and regulators. The jury will include 12 jurors and 5 alternates.

In the run-up to trial, Judge Davila agreed to cut around 30 prospective jurors who had filled in the questionnaire, for reasons including language barriers, bias and the financial hardship caused by participating in a long trial. Judge Davila plans to hold the trial three days a week, ending in the midafternoon, a schedule that jury consultants said could allow jurors to keep working.

“They’ll be juggling both, with one foot in their regular life and one foot in the trial,” said Rachel York Colangelo, a jury consultant with Magna Legal Services.

Heather Somerville contributed to this article.

Write to Sara Randazzo at [email protected]

This article was published by Dow Jones Newswires

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