SAN JOSE, Calif. — Three days a week, Adriana Kratzmann, an administrator, opens the door at 8:30 a.m. to Courtroom 4 of the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.
Journalists and spectators present Ms. Kratzmann with numbered paper tickets. They are given by security guards at the building’s entrance. After Ms. Kratzmann has checked their tickets, they rush into the room with beige walls, jostling for a spot on five long wooden benches or one row of cushioned chairs.
Elizabeth Holmes then enters through the door at the east end of the room without windows.
Only a select few have made it inside the San Jose courtroom where Ms. Holmes, the disgraced founder of the failed blood-testing start-up Theranos, is being tried on 12 counts of fraud, charged with misleading investors about her company’s technology. Only 34 seats are available for the public. When those are full, spectators are directed down to an overflow room, where approximately 50 people can watch the trial on large monitors.
The trial is a complex one. The fate of the 37-year-old Ms. Holmes — one of the most infamous entrepreneurs of her generation — is on the line in a case that has come to symbolize Silicon Valley’s hubris. The case has received a lot media attention.
But what the public can’t see are the dozens of small interactions that happen behind the courthouse’s closed doors: Ms. Holmes whispering through her mask to her lawyers; the jury of eight men and four women scribbling notes in large white binders; the packs of lawyers whizzing past reporters who camp out on the hallway’s carpeted floors during breaks, charging their laptops. The hallway is often quiet when Ms. Holmes walks by. She has a quiet room, but uses the same elevator, toilet, and entry as everyone else.
To the affable security guards and other courtroom veterans, it’s no different from any other day at work. Since 1984, when the Robert F. Peckham Building was completed, Courtroom 4 has seen many trials.
“There’s nothing really remarkable about it,”Vicki Behringer, 61 (one of two court artists present in the room), who has drawn trials in Northern California since 1981, said that she was proud to be one of them.
Six weeks in, Ms. Holmes’s trial has settled into a rhythm. The public takes their seats in the fifth floor courtroom. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution come in through the same door as Holmes. They have a meeting and then set their binders on wooden tables. The courtroom is adorned with posters in vintage-style from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservationancy.
The crowd gathers as Judge Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California enters. He preside from an elevated bench separated from everyone by a clear divider from the pandemic-era.
Before the jury enters, lawyers on each side debate what evidence can be presented and which questions can be asked. Judge Davila, calm and soft-spoken, sits back in his chair as he reviews each request. To prevent unrelated questions, he has blocked lines of questioning at times. “mini-trials”Do not drag out an already long trial.
After this, the jurors proceed to the door at the top of the courtroom. They sit on the left, in two rows with padded leather seats and a wooden overflow bench. Two jurors have already been dismissed, one of whom stated that her Buddhist faith made it difficult for her to punish Ms. Holmes. There are three other options.
Then, testimony begins. The witnesses are seated at the front of a room behind a clear partition. Often, they have veered into technical jargon about the problems that plagued Theranos’s blood testing machines. Words like “immunoassays”Initials such as H.C.G. (a hormone test) are used as casually as slang.
Email threads can be entered as evidence and flash on monitors set up on both ends of the courtroom. One reporter brought binoculars with him to see the highlighted text.
Strangely, the mood during testimony is sleepy. “A lot of it is very technically detailed and diagnostically detailed,”Anne Kopf-Sill, aged 62, is a retired executive in biotechnology who has attended the trial almost every day because of personal interest. “I cannot imagine the jury is getting very much out of this.”
To produce her ink-and-watercolor sketches, Ms. Behringer, the court artist, looks for striking visual details, she said, like the thick binders of exhibits and expressive hand gestures from Ms. Holmes’s main lawyer, Lance Wade.
Jane Sinense, 66, the other court artist, said she — like everyone — was looking to Ms. Holmes.
“She’s so hard to read because there’s nothing there,”Ms. Sinense added that Ms. Holmes was easy to draw as she barely moves. “She never gives a clue.”
Ms. Holmes, who is always on the front with at most three lawyers, has traded her trademark black turtleneck in for more traditional business attire: a blazer over an opaque dress, or a blouse over a skirt with a matching medical masque.
Family members are directly behind her in the gallery row reserved for defense. Her mother, Noel Holmes, who often walks into the courtroom holding her daughter’s hand, is a constant companion. Elizabeth Holmes’s partner, Billy Evans, joins some days as well.
The family is very private. Ms. Behringer, who is next to the family at court, said that Noel Holmes seemed “a bit too much”. “very nice and quiet”And that Mr. Evans was “congenial,”However, this should be noted: “We’re not having conversations.”
Noel Holmes declined to comment, as did Mr. Evans. Ms. Holmes’s law firm did not respond to a request for comment.
Many people have been interested in Holmes’ story, but not all have found them as exciting.
“I get bogged down in the science of it,”Mike Silva, 70 years old, is a retired paralegal who lives near San Jose and has attended each day along with a friend. He said that they have a routine of riding the same train and sitting in identical courtroom seats.
Beth Seibert (63), who owns a record storage company in Los Altos. “Bad Blood,”A book on Theranos, written by John Carreyrou for her book club.
“I guess I’m kind of a junkie,”She added that she has also listened podcasts about the case.
Ms. Siebert, a former Theranos laboratory director, said that the trial had been abandoned after being questioned on alternative assessment protocols. “not quite”She lived up to her expectations.
“They’re really getting into the minutiae,”She said.
This minutia could last at most eight more weeks. To get through witnesses more expeditiously, Judge Davila has prolonged the trial’s hours until 3 p.m. instead of 2. Judge Davila reminds jurors at the end of each day not to discuss the trial or ignore media coverage.
As the crowd moves on, the security guards offer small talk and a promise. “See you tomorrow!”