* Judge says defendant never should have been prosecuted
* Company lawyer had been charged with obstructing justice
* Jury had been hearing evidence in case
(Adds comments from Justice Department, defense lawyer,
background on trial)
By Carlyn Kolker and Jeremy Pelofsky
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, May 10 A judge threw out
criminal charges against a former GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L)
lawyer midway through her trial for purportedly obstructing a
probe into the company's marketing practices, saying
prosecutors never should have brought the case.
Tuesday's acquittal of former Glaxo lawyer Lauren Stevens
marks a huge rebuke to federal prosecutors, who have been
aggressively seeking to pin blame on individual executives for
potentially illegal promotional activities by drug companies.
Stevens, a former associate general counsel at Glaxo, had
been charged with four counts of making false statements, one
count of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying and
concealing documents. The charges related to a U.S. Food and
Drug Administration investigation of the marketing of
antidepressant Wellbutrin as a weight-loss remedy.
U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Greenbelt, Maryland,
granted a defense motion for acquittal before the case reached
the jury. He sent jurors home about two weeks into the trial,
after they had heard evidence in the case, including testimony
from a Glaxo marketing executive and FDA employees.
"I believe that it would be a miscarriage of justice to
permit this case to go to the jury," the judge said in court,
according to a transcript reviewed by Reuters. "I conclude that
the defendant in this case should never have been prosecuted
and she should be permitted to resume her career."
Judges rarely dismiss charges in the middle of trials --
this was the first time Titus did so in his seven and a half
years on the bench, he said.
"We believe these charges were well-founded and that the
jury should have been allowed to deliberate and decide this
case," a Justice Department spokesman said.
Stevens' defense attorney, Reid Weingarten, called the
judge's decision "a complete vindication" for his client. If
convicted, she could have faced up to 20 years in prison on the
obstruction charge alone.
A Glaxo representative said the company was pleased with
the acquittal. The company has said in regulatory filings it is
cooperating with the government's probe into its marketing
Prosecutors said Stevens knew about the company's
sponsorship of programs to promote Wellbutrin for unapproved
uses such as weight loss, including payments to doctors to give
hundreds of talks to other doctors.
She also was accused of withholding slides used by the
doctors paid by Glaxo to promote Wellbutrin for the unapproved
The legal community was watching the case closely because
it could have had implications for what advice in-house
corporate lawyers provide. Such charges against a company
lawyer are rare and Justice Department officials could not
recall a similar case in recent years.
Stevens was originally indicted in November. In March, the
judge threw out the indictment after ruling prosecutors
committed errors in presenting their case to a grand jury. He
allowed the government to charge Stevens again.
The case is U.S. v. Stevens, U.S. District Court, District
of Maryland, No. 10-CR-694.
(Additional reporting by James Vicini in Washington; Editing
by Robert MacMillan, Andre Grenon and Steve Orlofsky)