Harold Kahn, the San Francisco Superior Court judge who is overseeing the ongoing Ellen Pao Vs. Kleiner Perkins trial, has ruled that Kleiner Perkins’ legal team will not be able to discuss the personal financial situation of Pao and her husband in front of the jury.
It’s a blow for Kleiner Perkins, which is being sued for at least $16 million, an amount that represents the potential wages and other rewards on which Pao says she missed out during and after her employment at the Sand Hill Road venture capital firm. Pao’s suit, which alleges gender discrimination and retaliation, is also seeking an unspecified amount of money for damages.
Yesterday after the jury left the courtroom for lunch, Kleiner Perkins’ lawyer Lynn Hermle asked Judge Kahn if she could bring up the financial situation of Pao and her husband Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher during cross-examination, presumably to show that Pao had ulterior motives for filing her lawsuit in May 2012.
Fletcher, who has been described by the New York Times as a “flashy money manager,” has been involved in quite a few legal cases through the years, both as a plaintiff and a defendant. In July 2012, two months after Pao filed suit against Kleiner, Fletcher’s hedge fund Fletcher Asset Management filed for bankruptcy. In 2013, a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee reported that Fletcher had fraudulently inflated the value of his firm’s investments for years, and that the hedge fund, which was founded in the early 1990s, was likely insolvent from at least 2008. “In many ways, the fraud here has many of the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme,” the trustee’s report said.
However, Judge Kahn has ruled that none of that will be brought up in front of the jury. His ruling said that the financial situation of Pao and Fletcher lacks relevance to the case, as anyone who stands to gain money in a lawsuit inherently has a financial motivation in its outcome. The ruling reads in part:
“To permit KPCB to explore whether there is any additional incremental financial motive by Ms. Pao to sue (or more accurately, to not tell the truth about facts relevant to her claims) due to the asserted financial distress of her husband is unlikely to assist the jury in reaching the decisions it is required to decide, would likely create an unseemly sideshow, and would greatly intrude on the privacy of both Ms. Pao and Mr. Fletcher.”
We’re two and a half weeks into the courtroom trial, and the case is likely to proceed for at least one or two weeks more. Ellen Pao took the stand on Monday, and her cross-examination has continued through the days since.