VENTURA, CALIFORNIA—Judy Mikovits has been on trial of sorts ever since she led a team that published a heavily criticized report in Science 2 years ago that linked a mouse retrovirus known as XMRV to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). But here in Superior Court in room 13 she faced a real legal proceeding: an extradition hearing on felony charges that she was a fugitive from justice who had possession of stolen property from her former employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease (WPI) in Reno, Nevada.
Dressed in a prison-issued blue jump suit with an orange T-shirt underneath, Mikovits entered the courtroom and took a seat on a bench already occupied by a few dozen similarly dressed male and female inmates. They sat in a large room-within-the-room that had white metal bars for walls. They looked like they were in a cage. Four bailiffs with Taser guns strolled around the open part of the court. The other inmates included heavily muscled and tattooed men and street-tough women. The 53-year-old scientist, who has been in jail since last Friday, appeared composed but wildly out of place.
In keeping with court rules, Mikovits did not try to communicate with her husband or any of her half-dozen other supporters who had come to watch the proceeding. When her case came up, she walked to the front of the cage and spoke through the bars to her attorney, Paul Tyler. Tyler asked the judge to reduce her $100,000 bail, which he refused to do, noting that this was a Nevada case and a court there had set the amount. The judge granted a request for a continuance on the extradition demand and asked Mikovits to return on 19 December.
Mikovits's supporters, several of whom attended a prayer service for her last night at a nearby Presbyterian church she attends, were outraged by her arrest, which was instigated after WPI reported a theft of laboratory notebooks and related material that it deems proprietary. WPI alleges in a separate civil suit for breach of contract that Mikovits "masterminded" the theft. "When you see a professional person and world-renowned scientist in a cage like that, it hurts me a lot," said Emmett Littleton, a deacon at her church.
His wife, Sherelyn, visited Mikovits in jail yesterday and told the story of her trying to help another inmate make bail so she would not miss work today. "Judy is all heart," Sherelyn said. "Her whole interest is in helping patients, and everything that she has done is for that end."
Mikovits, who has denied wrongdoing through lawyers handling her civil suit, posted bail shortly after the hearing and is expected to be released as early as this evening.