Inside the Courtroom With Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes

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SAN JOSE, California. Three days a week, administrator Adriana Kratzmann opens the door at 8:30 am to Courtroom 4 of the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and the United States Courthouse.

Journalists and spectators give her numbered paper tickets, which they receive from the guards at the entrance to the building. As soon as Ms Kratzmann checks their tickets, they rush into a room with beige walls, trying to take a seat on five long wooden benches and a single, valuable row of cushioned chairs.

Then from the door on the east side of the windowless room, Elizabeth Holmes walks in.

Only a select few made it to the courtroom in San Jose, where Mrs. Holmes, the disgraced founder failed blood test startup Theranosis on trial on 12 counts of fraud, accusing investors of misleading her company’s technology. There are only 34 seats open to the public, and when they fill up, viewers are directed to the overflow room on the floor below, where about 50 people squeeze in to watch the process on large monitors.

Issues to be discussed at the trial essential. The fate of Ms. Holmes, 37, one of the most notorious entrepreneurs of her generation, is at stake in a case that has come down to symbolize the arrogance of Silicon Valley… Media coverage was plentiful.

But what the public doesn’t see is the dozens of small interactions that take place behind the closed doors of the courthouse: Ms. Holmes whispers through a mask to her lawyers; a jury of eight men and four women taking notes in large white folders; groups of lawyers zip past reporters who camp on carpets in the hallway and charge their laptops during breaks. This hallway is often quiet when Miss Holmes walks by, who has a special quiet room, but uses the same elevator, bathroom, and entrance as everyone else.

For affable security guards and other courtroom veterans, this is no different than any other workday. Courtroom 4 has seen its fair share of lawsuits since the Robert F. Peckham Building, later named after a federal judge, was completed in 1984.

“There is nothing special about that,” said 61-year-old Vicki Behringer, one of two court artists in the hall who sketched lawsuits in Northern California for 31 years.

Six weeks later, Miss Holmes’ trial came into rhythm. When members of the public take their seats in the fifth floor courtroom, prosecution and defense attorneys enter from the same door as Ms. Holmes. They confer among themselves and place folders on wooden tables. The courtroom is framed with vintage-style posters from Golden Gate National Park.

The crowd then stands as Judge Edward J. Davila of the US District Court for the Northern District of California enters. He presides from a high bench, separated from everyone by a clear partition of the time of the pandemic.

Before the jury enters, the lawyers of each side argue about what evidence can be presented and what questions can be asked. Judge Davila, quiet and calm, leans back in her chair, considering every request. He sometimes blocked interrogation lines so that unrelated “mini-trials” would drag out an already drawn-out trial.

The jury then goes through the door at the head of the courtroom. They sit on the left on two rows of padded leather seats and one wooden bench. Two jurors have already been dismissed, including the one who said her Buddhist faith made her uneasy at the thought of punishing Miss Holmes. There are three deputies left.

Then the testimony begins. The witnesses are seated at the front of the room behind a transparent partition. They often used technical jargon when talking about the problems faced by Theranos blood testing machines. Words like “immunoassay” and initials like hCG (hormone test) are used as casually as slang.

E-mail chains entered as evidence also flash on monitors set on either side of the courtroom. One reporter brought binoculars to read the tiny highlighted text.

The mood during testimony is, oddly enough, sleepy. “Many of them are very technical and diagnostic detail,” said Anne Kopf-Sill, 62, a retired head of biotech who came to the test almost every day out of personal interest. “I can’t imagine that the jury would benefit a lot from this.”

For her ink and watercolor sketches, she says, Ms. Behringer, the court painter, seeks striking visual details such as thick exhibit folders and expressive hand gestures from Ms Holmes’ chief attorney, Lance Wade.

Jane Sinens, 66, another court artist, said she – like everyone else – was looking for Miss Holmes.

“It’s so hard to read because there’s nothing there,” said Ms. Sinens, adding that Ms. Holmes is easy to draw because she hardly moves. “She never gives the slightest idea.”

Miss Holmes, who always has at least three lawyers, traded her signature black turtleneck for more traditional business wear: a short jacket over a plain dress or blouse and a skirt with a matching medical mask.

Family members are directly behind her in the gallery row reserved for protection. Her mother, Noel Holmes, who often enters the courtroom holding her daughter’s hand, is a constant companion. Elizabeth Holmes’ partner, Billy Evans, is also joining for a few days.

The family is largely closed. Ms Behringer, who is sitting next to the family in court, said that Noel Holmes seemed “very sweet and quiet,” and Mr Evans was “close in spirit,” but noted, “We do not speak.”

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

Interest in Miss Holmes attracted many viewers, although not all of them found the events as exciting as they hoped.

“I’m stuck in the science of this,” said Mike Silva, 70, a retired paralegal who lives in San Jose and visits every day with a friend. They usually take the same train and occupy the same seats in the courtroom, he said.

Beth Seibert, 63, who owns a record storage business in Los Altos, California, said she recently came here after choosing “Enmity, ”Journalist John Carreiro’s book on Theranos for her book club.

“I think I’m kind of a drug addict,” she said, adding that she also listened to podcasts on the case.

But when the former director of Theranos lab was asked about alternative assessment protocols, Ms Siebert said the test “didn’t quite” live up to her expectations.

“They really get into the little things,” she said.

These little things can last for at least eight more weeks. To get through to witnesses more quickly, Judge Davila extended the trial hours to 15:00 instead of 2. At the end of each day, he reminds the jury not to discuss the trial and ignore media coverage.

When the crowd leaves, the guards start small talk and promise, “See you tomorrow!”

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