Technology

Elizabeth Holmes' Lawyers Request Potential Jurors Be Quizzed About Her Celebrity

  • Attorneys for former Theranos CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, requested potential jurors be asked about bias toward Holmes' and trial witnesses' "profession and celebrity."
  • Judge Davila ruled witnesses will be able to remove their masks when testifying.
  • Three to five seats inside the courtroom will be reserved for Holmes' family and friends.

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- Elizabeth Holmes' attorneys on Monday requested that they be allowed to ask jurors about bias and exposure to Holmes' "profession and celebrity" when jury selection begins later this month in her criminal fraud trial.

"When there are cases that jurors may be influenced by things such as celebrity, either a witness or the defendant's profession or position in a community, let there be some sort of caution against that." Amy Saharia, an attorney for Holmes, told the judge. "It's no surprise, your honor, that our client is the subject of very intense media scrutiny."

Defense attorneys asked to also warn jurors about bias relating to the star-studded witness list as part of questions to potential jurors.

"There will be a number of witnesses who have obtained significant success in their profession, their community or are internationally known," Saharia said.

A highly recognizable lineup of business and political figures are expected to testify, including former Theranos board members and investors such as Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch and James Mattis.

Holmes is facing a dozen counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with Theranos, the startup she founded in 2003. Federal prosecutors say Holmes and her COO, Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, defrauded investors and patients about Theranos' technology. Both have pleaded not guilty.

"I think it's unnecessary your honor," Robert Leach, an assistant U.S. attorney said about the defense' request to add profession and celebrity status. "It's repetitive and argumentative."

It was the first time in a year and six months the media was allowed inside the San Jose courtroom for a hearing related to Holmes' case.

Holmes, who gave birth to her first child last month, sat on the right side of the courtroom facing the judge, who appeared behind plexiglass. Defense attorneys also raised concern about what they call "a high volume of media coverage" that Holmes is facing.

They suggest adding instructions on the questionnaire asking potential jurors about their consumption of social media, specifically Reddit, with a warning that it could lead to a possible mistrial.

"Jurors will have to take proactive steps to avoid being exposed to media in this case," Saharia said. "We think very strong cautionary instructions with respect to media are critical."

The government said that adding Reddit to the jury questionnaire "is unnecessary but not objectionable."

The potential jurors, which Davila said were summoned from across California including San Benito County, may be asked about their vaccination status.

Davila revealed he plans to take a recess every two hours and wrap hearings by 2 pm every day.

"Because of the length and duration of this trial, fatigue sets in for jurors," Davila said. "I want the jurors to feel they're not in a closed confinement the entire time."

Davila added there will be extra air filters in his courtroom and three to five seats will be reserved for Holmes.

"We anticipate that some members of Ms. Holmes' family and friends will want to attend," said Holmes' attorney, Kevin Downey.

According to the court, the gallery can seat approximately 60 spectators with an overflow room that will be set up for some 40 more.

The court told CNBC approximately 15 to 20 seats inside the courtroom will be designated for the press.

After two hours, Holmes left the courthouse flanked by her attorneys. She ignored questions asked by CNBC about whether she feels prepared for her trial.

Jury selection begins on Aug. 31. Davila said he anticipates it'll take two days.

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