Judge mulls dismissing Glaxo lawyer indictment

GREENBELT, Md., March 17 Thu Mar 17, 2011 5:51pm EDT

GREENBELT, Md., March 17 (Reuters) - A federal judge is considering whether to dismiss an indictment against a former GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.L) lawyer after new evidence emerged about possible prosecutorial errors in her indictment.

The lawyer, Lauren Stevens, was charged in November with obstructing a Food and Drug Administration probe into Glaxo's marketing of its antidepressant drug Wellbutrin.

At a hearing on Thursday in Greenbelt, Maryland, Stevens' attorney asked U.S. District Judge Roger Titus to throw out the indictment, arguing that prosecutors failed to properly answer a question raised by a grand juror about Stevens' defense.

The question concerned whether it was relevant that Stevens received advice from others. Stevens' defense lawyers have said she was acting on the advice of Glaxo's law firm, King & Spalding, a so-called advice-of-counsel defense.

"The problems here are fundamental, obvious and I don't think they can be defended," Stevens' attorney, Reid Weingarten, said.

At Thursday's hearing, Titus asked prosecutors pointed questions about how they responded to the grand jury request. "The question is whether the answer was correct, and if not, what's the remedy?" he asked.

Titus did not say when he would issue a ruling, but raised the possibility of throwing out the current indictment while allowing prosecutors to start new grand jury proceedings and seek a new indictment.

Patrick Jasperse, a lawyer for the government, said that prosecutors essentially fulfilled their duty before the grand jury and that it would be "extreme" to throw out the indictment.

"Could the answer have been more articulate and complete? Absolutely," Jasperse said. "But the government basically got it right."

After the hearing, Weingarten and Jasperse declined to comment. King & Spalding spokesman Les Zuke declined to comment on the firm's role.

Grand jury proceedings are typically secret, but some portions of this one were made public in court filings that were part of the defense's effort to dismiss the indictment.

(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker of Reuters Legal; Editing by Eddie Evans)

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