Ex-Glaxo Lawyer Wins Acquittal from Federal Judge at Obstruction Trial

Ex-Glaxo Lawyer Wins Acquittal from Federal Judge at Obstruction Trial

May 11th, 2011 // 12:59 pm @

An ex-GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) attorney accused of covering up the company’s improper marketing of its antidepressant drug Wellbutrin SR won acquittal by a federal judge at her criminal trial.

Lauren Stevens, 61, was cleared of wrongdoing today by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Greenbelt, Maryland, before the case went to the jury. Titus ended the trial after prosecutors presented their evidence for 10 days and before Stevens’s lawyers offered her defense. Federal judges rarely dismiss cases before jurors can decide the outcome.

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“The case never should have been brought in the first place,” Reid Weingarten, Stevens’s attorney, said in a phone interview following the ruling. “It’s a shame that this woman had to go through all of this.”

Prosecutors charged Stevens, a former vice president and associate general counsel for London-based Glaxo, with impeding an inquiry in 2002 and 2003 by U.S. regulators into the marketing of Wellbutrin SR for unapproved uses.

Stevens, of Durham, North Carolina, was charged with one count of obstructing an official proceeding, one count of falsifying and concealing documents and four counts of making false statements. The first two charges are punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison while the others carry terms of as long as five years.
‘Exercising Judgments’

The case centered on a dispute about “lawyers exercising their judgments about document production,” Weingarten said today. Weingarten previously told the jury that Stevens never intended to mislead the Food and Drug Administration. The defense contended Stevens relied on the advice of in-house lawyers at Glaxo as well as its outside law firm, King & Spalding, in crafting Glaxo’s responses to the agency.

In March, Titus threw out the original indictment against Stevens after finding that prosecutors had improperly told grand jurors that an advice-of-counsel defense wasn’t relevant to whether the attorney should be indicted for making false statements about Glaxo’s products. The government re-indicted Stevens the following month on obstruction charges.

“If someone relies in good faith on a lawyer’s advice, that negates criminal intent,” Sam Buell, a former government prosecutor who is now a law professor at Duke University in Durham, said in a phone interview. “It sounds like a correct decision.”

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.

The case is U.S. v. Stevens, 10-cr-694, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenb

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