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Judge Pushes Back Restart in Accused LinkedIn Hacker's Trial to May


Faced with a key witness expressing concerns about coming to court to testify during the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in San Francisco has again postponed the resumption of a criminal trial against a Russian man accused of hacking Silicon Valley technology companies.  

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California on Thursday said the trial of Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikulin, who has been in custody for 41 months awaiting trial on charges he hacked into computers belonging to LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, would resume on May 4. The date falls after “shelter in place” orders and general orders currently governing court procedures across the Northern District are currently set to expire.

Alsup, noting that the U.S. surgeon general has referred to this week as the nation’s “Pearl Harbor” week in respects to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that he hopes that the situation will be more stable by then. But he also said that he, the lawyers, and jurors, who had originally been set to return on April 13 to hear the case, were doing “essential” work and should prepare to move forward on May 4 with the necessary safety and social distancing protocols in place. 

“We are an essential function, and we’ve got to stand up and do our job. That’s my view,” said Alsup. The judge noted the time that Nikulin has already been in pretrial detention could possibly be longer than any sentence that might result from his conviction. “For his sake if nothing else, because he’s the one whose liberty has been deprived,” the judge added.

Although federal prosecutors had indicated they were prepared to move forward with trial on April 13 as originally planned and Nikulin’s lawyers indicated that was his preference, a lawyer for Ganesh Krishnan, a former LinkedIn security official set to testify, indicated he had a health condition that made him uncomfortable with coming to a crowded courtroom during the current state of the pandemic.

Appearing by telephone Thursday, Laurie Mims of Keker Van Nest & Peters, who represents Krishnan and LinkedIn, did not reveal the witness’ health condition, but said that he believes it has resulted in him having a compromised immune system. She said that LinkedIn, which as a hacking victim has a right to have an observer in court for the proceedings, would not be sending anyone should trial resume next week. “LinkedIn is not willing to risk the health of its employees and legal representatives to have a representative at trial,” she said.

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