SAN FRANCISCO — The criminal trial of ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes has been scheduled to start in summer 2020 — setting the stage for a blockbuster courtroom drama certain to command attention far beyond Silicon Valley.
In a pretrial hearing in federal court in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to begin jury selection the week of July 28, 2020, and start opening arguments on Aug. 4, 2020, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed. The trial is expected to last for about three months.
Holmes and her former No. 2 Sunny Balwani are accused of defrauding investors, patients, and doctors in a blood-testing scandal that brought down health care’s richest venture-backed startup and a parable for the dangers of medical hype and hubris. The saga has gone mainstream in a way that few industry controversies do, becoming the subject of a book, a podcast, and competing documentaries.
Holmes and Balwani have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. They have each pleaded not guilty, and face a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to $2.7 million in fines. That figure doesn’t include any cash the government could demand as restitution for the alleged fraud.
The court date next year marks something of a compromise between the two sides. Prosecutors had indicated a preference for a trial in the first half of next year, while attorneys for Holmes and Balwani had said they needed more time to prepare for a complex case involving countless pages of documentation.
Speculation has abounded over what kind of defense Holmes and Balwani might mount. They could blame each other — and the intrigue would be heightened by the fact that they were previously in a romantic relationship, at a time when they ran the now defunct company together and made the decisions for which they’re now facing criminal charges.
According to prosecutors, Holmes and Balwani spent years lying about the capabilities of their blood-testing technology and the state of their business while making grand projections with no basis in reality.
Another possible defense could involve putting the government on trial, by arguing that federal regulators improperly took action against the company. Central to that potential case is the reporting of John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journal journalist who broke the story of wrongdoing at Theranos and whose reporting spurred a series of regulatory investigations. In an apparent effort to bolster that defense, Holmes’s lawyers have sought records documenting Carreyrou’s communications with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The presiding judge at Friday’s hearing was Edward Davila, who often hears cases related to intellectual property and technology.