U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Judge quashes subpoena for Fortune magazine reporter’s notes from profile of Theranos ex-CEO

Incident Details

Date of Incident
March 26, 2021

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
March 26, 2021

A California magistrate judge quashed a subpoena on Oct. 14, 2021, seeking reporting notes, materials and testimony from reporter Roger Parloff as part of a criminal trial. The subpoena, issued March 26, focused on notes and audio recordings in relation to his June 2014 Fortune magazine profile of Elizabeth Holmes, then-CEO of Theranos.

Parloff was subpoenaed by Holmes’ defense team during her criminal fraud case for allegedly defrauding patients and investors of Theranos, a start-up technology company that claimed to have developed a device that could run blood tests with a microscopic amount of blood.

Holmes and her business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, were federally indicted on June 14, 2018, and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Holmes’ jury trial started on Sept. 8, 2021.

Parloff, who wrote in a column that his profile helped “raise to prominence the inventor-entrepreneur,” became a key witness for federal prosecutors who used his Fortune magazine reporting to demonstrate how Holmes misled investors. More than a year after publishing the profile, Parloff published a correction to the article in 2015, noting the misleading statements Theranos had made to him.

According to Markets Insider, Parloff already agreed to testify in the trial. He provided notes and transcripts of his 2014 interview with Holmes to federal prosecutors and Holmes’ defense team, but the subpoena, to appear in court on Sept. 7, 2021, demanded he turn over additional reporting notes from other sources he interviewed for the profile.

Parloff’s lawyer, David S. Korzenik, challenged the request, arguing it was a “fishing expedition” and violated Parloff’s reporter’s privilege. Korzenik did not respond to a request for comment.

“The trial is not about Mr. Parloff’s state of mind. It’s not a libel case against his subsequent article in which he corrected his first,” Korzenik said during the hearing. “He can only testify as to what Ms. Holmes told him.”

According to Law360, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins agreed with Parloff’s request to quash the subpoena, saying that the subpoena was insufficient because it speculated about what Parloff’s notes contained, adding that granting it could prolong the trial.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].