At trial, Elizabeth Holmes may claim Theranos partner and onetime beau abused her

Legal filings suggest Holmes plans to defend herself by accusing ex-Theranos President Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani of psychological abuse. Balwani's lawyers call the allegation "outrageous."

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2 min read

Ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes could seek to defend herself at her upcoming fraud trial by alleging she suffered psychological, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of former Theranos President and onetime boyfriend Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, and that because of submissiveness to him, she believed allegedly fraudulent statements she made were true, according to court filings unsealed Saturday.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes leaves the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building with her defense team in downtown San Jose, California, on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes leaves the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building with her defense team in downtown San Jose, California, on May 4, 2021.

Nhat V. Meyer/Getty Images

Holmes "alleges a decade-long campaign of psychological abuse" by Balwani that involved "monitoring her calls, text messages, and emails; physical violence, such as throwing hard, sharp objects at her; restricting her sleep; monitoring her movements; and insisting that any success she achieved was because of him," reads a filing by attorneys for Balwani, which calls the allegation "outrageous."

Watch this: Elizabeth Holmes on trial over Theranos role

Holmes, the filing says, "plans to introduce evidence that Mr. Balwani verbally disparaged her and withdrew 'affection if she displeased him,' controlled what she ate, how she dressed, how much money she could spend, who she could interact with -- essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions."

Both Holmes and Balwani are charged with massive fraud in connection with blood-testing startup Theranos. In the middle of the last decade, Holmes received huge attention and was touted as "the next Steve Jobs" before the company's supposedly revolutionary and disruptive technology was shown to be unreliable.

The newly revealed filings, by lawyers for Balwani and lawyers for Holmes, were originally made under seal between late 2019 and mid 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported, and were related to whether Holmes and Balwani, who were jointly charged with fraud, should be tried separately.

Balwani's lawyers argued that the abuse allegation would prejudice the jury against him. Holmes' lawyers maintained that Balwani's presence in the courtroom would disrupt her ability to participate in the legal proceedings. The judge granted separate trials: Holmes' is set to begin Sept. 7, with jury selection starting this Tuesday. Balwani's is scheduled for next year. The filings were unsealed after a legal challenge by the Journal's publisher.

Read more: Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos trial: What to know about the hotly anticipated case

In one of the unsealed filings, attorneys for Holmes said she's likely to testify and "seeks to introduce ... evidence ... that she lacked the intent to deceive because, as a result of her deference to Mr. Balwani, she believed that various representations were true."

Potential third-party testimony, the filing continues, would relate "to whether and how Ms. Holmes' psychological responses during and after the relationship were and are consistent with typical reactions of victims of an abusive relationship."

Attorneys for Holmes didn't respond to a request for comment Saturday, nor did attorneys for Balwani. In their filing, Balwani's attorneys called the abuse accusations "deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani, devastating personally to him, and highly and unfairly prejudicial to his defense of this case."

It's not certain Holmes will pursue the mental health defense, the Journal noted, adding that her strategy could change at any time during the trial.