Contained in the Courtroom With Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes


SAN JOSE, Calif. – Adriana Kratzmann, a director, opens the door to Courtroom 4 of the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and the U.S. Courthouse at 8:30 a.m. three days a week.

Journalists and spectators give her numbered paper tickets that they get from security guards at the building entrance. After Ms. Kratzmann has checked her tickets, they stream into the beige room and jostle for a seat on five long wooden benches and a single, award-winning row of upholstered chairs.

Then Elizabeth Holmes comes in through a door on the east side of the windowless room.

Only a select few have made it into the San Jose courtroom, where Ms. Holmes, the disgraced founder of the failed blood testing startup Theranos, is charged on 12 cases of fraud for misleading investors about her company’s technology . Only 34 seats are open to the public, and when these are occupied, viewers are directed to an overflow room one floor below, where around 50 people crowd to watch the process on large monitors.

The subjects discussed in the negotiation are substantial. The fate of 37-year-old Ms. Holmes – one of the most notorious entrepreneurs of her generation – is at stake in a case that has become a symbol of Silicon Valley’s hubris. Media coverage was plentiful.

What the public cannot see, however, are the dozen of small interactions that take place behind the closed doors of the courthouse: Ms. Holmes whispers to her lawyers through her mask; the jury of eight men and four women scribbling notes in large white folders; the pack of lawyers whizzing past reporters who camp on the hallway carpeted floors during breaks and charge their laptops. This hallway often goes quiet when Mrs. Holmes, who has a special rest room but uses the same elevator, bathroom and entrance as everyone else, passes by.

For the easy-going security guards and other courtroom veterans, it’s no different than any other working day. Courtroom 4 has seen its share of court cases since the completion in 1984 of the Robert F. Peckham Building, which was later named after a federal judge.

“It’s nothing really remarkable,” says Vicki Behringer, 61, one of two court artists in the room who has been sketching trials in Northern California for 31 years.

After six weeks, the trial against Ms. Holmes has settled into a rhythm. While the public is seated in the fifth floor courtroom, prosecutors and defense attorneys come out of the same door as Ms. Holmes. They consult with each other and place folders on wooden tables. Vintage framed posters of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy ring in the courtroom.

Then the crowd stands as Judge Edward J. Davila of the US District Court for the Northern District of California walks in. He is sitting on a raised bench that is separated from everyone by a clear pandemic-era partition.

Before the jury arrives, attorneys on each side argue about what evidence can be presented and what questions can be asked. Judge Davila quietly and calmly leans back in his seat as he ponders each request. He has sometimes blocked a series of interrogations to prevent independent “mini-trials” from dragging on the already lengthy process.

With this out of the way, the jury enters through a door at the top of the courtroom. You sit on the left in two rows of upholstered leather seats and an overflowing wooden bench. Two jurors have already been dismissed, including one who said her Buddhist beliefs made her uncomfortable with the idea of ​​punishing Ms. Holmes. Three deputies remain.

Then the testimony begins. Witnesses sit in the front part of the room behind a clear partition. Often they have gotten into technical jargon about the problems plaguing Theranos’ blood testing machines. Words like “immunoassays” and initials like HCG (a hormone test) are used as casually as slang.

Threads of email entered as evidence also flashed on monitors set up on either side of the courtroom. A reporter brought binoculars to read the tiny highlighted text.

The mood during the testimony is strangely sleepy. “Much is very technical and diagnostically detailed,” said Anne Kopf-Sill, 62, a retired biotechnology executive who comes to the study almost daily out of personal interest. “I can’t imagine the jury getting much out of it.”

In order to make her ink and watercolor sketches, Ms. Behringer, the court painter, looks for striking visual details, as she said, like the thick folders of the exhibits and expressive hand gestures by Ms. Holmes’ chief attorney Lance Wade.

Jane Sinense, 66, the other court artist, said that she – like everyone – looks to Ms. Holmes.

“It is so difficult to read because there is nothing,” said Ms. Sinense, adding that Ms. Holmes is easy to draw because she hardly moves. “She never gives a clue.”

Ms. Holmes, who is always at the helm with at least three lawyers, has traded her signature black turtleneck for more traditional business attire: a short blazer over a plain dress or a blouse and skirt with a matching medical mask.

Family members are standing directly behind her, in a row of galleries reserved for the defense. Her mother Noel Holmes, who often walks into the courtroom holding her daughter’s hand, is a constant companion. Elizabeth Holmes’ partner Billy Evans also comes on some days.

The family remains largely to itself. Ms. Behringer, who sits next to the family in court, said that Noel Holmes appeared “very nice and calm” and that Mr. Evans was “congenial” but remarked, “We’re not talking.”

Noel Holmes and Mr. Evans declined to comment. Ms. Holmes’s law firm did not respond to a request for comment.

Interest in Ms. Holmes drew a large audience, although not all found the events as exciting as they had hoped.

“I’m getting lost in science,” said Mike Silva, 70, a retired attorney who lives in San Jose and attended it every day with a friend. They have a routine of taking the same train and sitting in the same seats in the courtroom, he said.

Beth Seibert, 63, who owns a record warehouse in Los Altos, Calif., Said she recently showed up after selecting Bad Blood, a book about Theranos by journalist John Carreyrou, for her book club.

“I guess I’m kind of a junkie,” she said, adding that she also heard podcasts about the case.

But when a former Theranos lab director was grilled about alternative evaluation protocols, Ms. Siebert said the study “didn’t quite meet her expectations.”

“You really go into the details,” she said.

These minutiae can continue for at least eight weeks. In order to get witnesses through faster, Judge Davila has extended the hearing to 3 p.m. instead of 2 a.m. At the end of each day, he reminds the jury not to discuss the process and to ignore media coverage.

When the crowd comes out, the security guards offer small talk and a promise: “See you tomorrow!”




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