UPDATE 1-U.S. judge dismisses case against Glaxo ex-lawyer

Wed Mar 23, 2011 3:44pm EDT

(Adds details from judge's ruling)

NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters Legal) - A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed an indictment against a former lawyer at GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) who was charged with obstructing an investigation of the company's marketing practices.

Prosecutors made errors when they presented their case to a grand jury, U.S. District Judge Roger Titus ruled in Greenbelt, Maryland. He gave prosecutors the opportunity to seek a new indictment.

Lauren Stevens, a former associate general counsel of GlaxoSmithKline, was indicted in November on charges that she obstructed a Food and Drug Administration investigation of Glaxo's marketing of its antidepressant Wellbutrin for other uses, such as treating obesity.

The judge said that prosecutors gave "erroneous and prejudicial legal advice" during the grand jury proceeding. A grand juror had asked whether it was relevant that Stevens relied on advice of other lawyers when she responded to the FDA's investigation, according to court papers made public last week. The advice Stevens received from other lawyers is central to her defense in the case.

"The grand juror's question was not just any question, but rather was much akin to asking about an elephant in the room," Titus wrote in his ruling. "The incorrect answer either substantially influenced the decision to indict or, at the very least, creates grave doubt as to that decision."

Prosecutors improperly instructed the grand jury that the question was not an issue that the grand jury needed to consider, Titus said. The prosecutors did not commit misconduct and did not try to "affirmatively mislead the grand jury," he ruled.

Stevens is scheduled to go to trial April 5 in Greenbelt. Prosecutors charged that she made false statements to the FDA in response to an investigation that began in 2002, saying that in correspondence with the FDA Stevens covered up Glaxo's off-label marketing practices.

William Hassler, an attorney representing Stevens, and Sara Bloom, a prosecutor, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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

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