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 the US Courthouse.
Journalists and spectators present him with numbered paper tickets which they obtain from security guards at the entrance to the building. After Ms Kratzmann checked their tickets, they rushed into the beige-walled room, scrambling for a seat on five long wooden benches and a single row of overstuffed chairs.
Then through a door on the east side of the windowless room, Elizabeth Holmes enters.
Only a privileged few have made it into the San Jose courtroom where Ms Holmes, the disgraced founder of failed blood testing start-up Theranos, is on trial on 12 counts of fraud, accused of having misleads investors about his company’s technology. Only 34 seats are open to the public, and when those are full, spectators are directed to an overflow room one floor below, where around 50 people crowd to watch the trial on large screens.
The issues debated at trial are important. The fate of Ms. Holmes, 37, one of the most infamous entrepreneurs of her generation, hangs in the balance in a case that has come to symbolize the pride of Silicon Valley. Media coverage was abundant.
But what the public can’t see are the dozens of little interactions that take place behind closed courthouse doors: Ms Holmes whispering through her mask to her lawyers; the jury of eight men and four women scribbling notes in large white binders; packs of lawyers scurrying past reporters camping out on the hallway carpet during breaks, charging their laptops. This hallway often becomes silent when Mrs. Holmes, who has a special quiet room but uses the same elevator, bathroom, and entrance as everyone else, walks past.
For affable security guards and other courtroom veterans, it’s no different than any other day on the job. Courtroom 4 has seen its fair share of trials since the Robert F. Peckham Building, later named after a federal judge, was completed in 1984.
“There is nothing really remarkable about it,” said Vicki Behringer, 61, one of two court performers in the room, who has sketched trials in Northern California for 31 years.
Six weeks later, Ms Holmes’ trial has picked up speed. As members of the public take their seats in the fifth floor courtroom, prosecution and defense attorneys arrive through the same door as Ms Holmes. They talk to each other and place filing cabinets on wooden tables. Vintage-style framed posters of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy ring in the courtroom.
Then the crowd rises as Judge Edward J. Davila of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California walks in. He presides from a raised bench, separated from everyone by a clear divider from the era of the pandemic.
Before the jury arrives, lawyers on each side discuss what evidence can be presented and what questions can be asked. Judge Davila, a soft, calm voice, leans in his seat as he reviews each claim. He sometimes blocked the question lines to prevent unrelated “mini-trials” from dragging out the already long trial.
This being resolved, the jurors enter through a door at the back of the courtroom. They sit on the left side in two rows of upholstered leather seats and an overflow wooden bench. Already, two jurors have been fired, including one who said her Buddhist faith made her uncomfortable punishing Ms Holmes. There are three alternates left.
Then the testimony begins. The witnesses are seated at the front of the room behind a transparent partition. Often times, they have turned to technical jargon about the issues plaguing Theranos’ blood testing machines. Words like “immunoassay” and initials like HCG (a hormonal test) are used as casually as slang.
The discussion threads, filed in evidence, also flash on the screens installed on both sides of the courtroom. A reporter brought binoculars to read the highlighted small text.
The atmosphere during the testimony is, curiously, sleepy. “Much of it is very technically and diagnostically detailed,” said Anne Kopf-Sill, 62, a retired biotech executive who came to the trial almost daily out of personal interest. âI can’t imagine the jury getting a lot out of it. “
To produce her ink and watercolor sketches, Ms. Behringer, the court artist, looks for striking visual details, she said, such as the thick binders of the exhibits and expressive hand gestures. lead counsel for Ms. Holmes, Lance Wade.
Jane Sinense, 66, the other court artist, said she – like everyone else – is turning to Ms Holmes.
âShe’s so hard to read because there’s nothing there,â Ms. Sinense said, adding that Ms. Holmes is easy to draw because she barely moves. “She never gives a clue.”
Ms Holmes, who is still up front with at least three lawyers, swapped her signature black turtleneck for more traditional work clothes: a cropped blazer over a solid dress, or a blouse and skirt with a matching medical mask . .
Directly behind her, in a row gallery reserved for defense, are members of her family. 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 joins on certain days.
The family remains largely isolated. Ms Behringer, who sits next to the family in court, said Noel Holmes appeared “very kind and calm” and Mr Evans was “sympathetic”, but noted: “We are not having conversations.
Noel Holmes and Mr Evans declined to comment. Ms Holmes’ law firm did not respond to a request for comment.
Interest in Ms Holmes drew many onlookers, although not all found the events as exciting as they had hoped.
âI’m getting bogged down in science,â said Mike Silva, 70, a retired paralegal who lives in San Jose and attends it every day with a friend. They usually take the same train and sit in the same courtroom seats, he said.
Beth Seibert, 63, who owns a record storage business in Los Altos, Calif., Said she recently came forward after choosing “Bad Blood,” a book about Theranos by journalist John Carreyrou, for her reading Club.
âI guess I’m kind of a junkie,â she said, adding that she had also listened to podcasts on the case.
But when a former Theranos lab director was grilled on alternative assessment protocols, Ms Seibert said the trial “didn’t quite” live up to her expectations.
âThey really get into the details,â she said.
This thoroughness can last at least another eight weeks. To get witnesses through more quickly, Judge Davila extended the trial hours to 3 p.m. instead of 2 hours. At the end of each day, he reminds jurors not to discuss the trial and ignore media coverage.
As the crowd line up, the security guards strike up a little conversation and a promise, “See you tomorrow!”