Elizabeth Holmes could claim abusive relationship in Theranos fraud trial
Theranos Inc. founder Elizabeth Holmes could argue in her upcoming criminal fraud trial that she was in a ten-year abusive relationship with former Theranos chairman Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who has her. left in its control during the period in which the government alleges the two strapping-test executives committed massive fraud, according to recently revealed court records.
Ms Holmes claims the abuse by her former business and romantic partner was psychological, emotional and sexual, according to the documents.
Ms Holmes accused Mr Balwani of controlling what she ate, when she slept and how she dressed, throwing sharp objects at her and monitoring her text messages and emails, among others, according to one of the documents .
Mr. Balwani “unequivocally denies having engaged in any abuse at any time,” according to one of the newly unsealed documents. His lawyer, Jeffrey Coopersmith, argued this week that the documents should remain under seal so that Mr Balwani’s trial, currently scheduled for early next year, can be fair. Mr Coopersmith did not respond to a request for comment after the documents became public overnight.
The revelations, days before her trial began, shed light for the first time on how Ms Holmes’ lawyers might mount a mental health defense, as well as a judge’s decision to separate the trials of Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani, who were jointly charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in June 2018. Both pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers for Ms Holmes did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday. Ms Holmes is under no obligation to pursue the mental health defense and can change her defense strategy at any time during the trial.
The newly released documents were filed in court under seal between late 2019 and mid 2020. They became public after U.S. District Judge Edward Davila this week ruled in favor of a legal challenge by Dow Jones & Co., the editor of the Wall Street Journal.
THE 100 QUESTIONS TO THE JURORS OF THE FOUNDER OF THERANOS ELIZABETH HOLMES ARE DELETED
Jury selection begins Tuesday in Ms Holmes ‘trial in San Jose, Calif., Where prosecutors will seek to prove that she misled investors and patients about the nature of Theranos’ blood testing technology. The once-hot Silicon Valley startup claimed it could test a wide range of health issues using just a few drops of blood from a finger prick. In fact, as the Journal first reported in 2015, Theranos’ proprietary technology was unreliable, and the company performed many of its tests on commercial analyzers, including some that it modified. to work with smaller blood samples.
Ms Holmes met Mr Balwani, a seasoned technical executive about 20 years her senior, when she was a student at Stanford University, and he later joined her at Theranos as president and chief executive officer. operation. The couple have kept their romantic relationship a secret from investors, board members and company employees for years, according to depositions from former directors and staff taken in civil cases brought by disgruntled investors. and reviewed by the Journal.
Mr. Balwani used his personal wealth, acquired through his work at a previous tech start-up, to help support Theranos, including putting his own money as collateral for a loan in 2009 and later investing in it. business, according to Theranos’ testimony. former management controller.
Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani worked closely together until his departure in 2016, when the company faced a series of regulatory, legal and public relations challenges.
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The recently released court documents include documents filed by Ms Holmes indicating that she could bring a mental health or mental disability defense, based on what she called the psychological impact of the relationship with Ms. Balwani and abusive tactics that allowed him to exercise control over his.
That line of defense could also include testimony that Ms Holmes suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the documents, from the relationship with Mr Balwani and a second event that remains redacted in the court file.
The documents show Ms Holmes could argue that “she had no intention of deceiving because, due to her deference to Mr Balwani, she believed various representations to be true.”
Jason Roof, forensic psychiatrist and professor at the University of California, Davis, said the defenses rooted in PTSD may help explain situations where brief, acute episodes severely altered an accused’s behavior, but could be more difficult in cases like that of Mrs. Holmes.
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“Given the complexity of a white collar crime over many years, it will be difficult to prove that a person during each of these transactions was unable to understand the nature and quality of what they were doing. “, he added. said Dr Roof, who performs psychiatric evaluations in criminal cases but is not involved in that of Ms Holmes.
People close to Ms Holmes during the rise and fall of Theranos said they observed that Mr Balwani was generally respectful towards Ms Holmes in public and Ms Holmes appeared to have full control over decisions made within the company.
Motions filed by Mr Balwani and Ms Holmes asking the court to separate their trials were also unsealed, citing her allegations against him.
Mr Balwani requested a separate trial of Ms Holmes in December 2019, arguing that there would be “devastating prejudice” if she raised her allegations against him in a joint trial. “In the minds of almost all potential jurors, this Court believes that this case will be against a sexual predator,” rather than a technological framework, Mr. Coopersmith argued in a motion.
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Judge Davila scheduled Mr Balwani’s trial in second place when he allowed the motion to split the proceedings in March 2020. It is expected to start early next year.
In Ms Holmes’ request for separate trials, her attorneys argued that Mr Balwani’s physical presence in the same courtroom could be an emotional and psychological trigger that could make it difficult to concentrate during his case.
One of Ms Holmes’ attorneys told the judge it “was very likely that Holmes would testify” about Mr Balwani’s abuse, according to an unsealed court order, highlighting whether jurors l ‘would hear directly.
Lawyers for Ms Holmes have said they may call Mindy Mechanic as an expert witness related to the mental health defense. The newly unsealed documents show Dr Mechanic would testify to domestic violence, its psychological effects during and after the relationship, and whether Ms Holmes and Mr Balwani’s relationship fits that definition.
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Parts of the documents remained redacted under Judge Davila’s order. The documents indicate Ms Holmes may have been particularly susceptible to being controlled by an abusive partner, but details of that suggestion remain withheld. Unsealed records show that Dr. Mechanic’s testimony could explain how survivors of past sexual abuse are likely to be victimized again.
Ms Holmes had also told confidants over the years that she was a former sexual assault survivor before meeting Mr Balwani, people close to her said in interviews.