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Former GlaxoSmithKline lawyer acquitted of all charges

A federal judge in Greenbelt has acquitted the former GlaxoSmithKline lawyer accused of lying to the government about off-label marketing of one of the pharmaceutical company’s drugs.

Judge Roger Titus said Tuesday there was not sufficient evidence in the case against former Glaxo Associate General Counsel Lauren Stevens to submit it to the jury.

On Monday, after prosecutors had spent 10 days presenting their case against Stevens in U.S. District Court, the defense filed a motion for acquittal of six criminal charges in the obstruction of a federal investigation case.

“I conclude on the basis of the record before me that only with a jaundiced eye and with an inference of guilt that’s inconsistent with the presumption of innocence could a reasonable jury ever convict this defendant,” Titus said.

Titus said in his seven and a half years as a judge, he had never granted this type of motion.

“There is, however, always a first,” he said.

Stevens, 61, should never have been prosecuted and she should be able to continue with her career, the judge wrote.

The indictment charged Stevens, of Durham, N.C., with falsifying documents and obstructing a Food and Drug Administration probe into her company’s marketing of the anti-depressant Wellbutrin SR as a weight-loss drug, a use not approved by the Silver Spring-based FDA.

Stevens was indicted in November, but Titus threw out the indictment in March after finding that prosecutors had erred in their presentation of the case to a grand jury. Stevens was charged again and the trial began at the end of April.

The case is U.S. v. Stevens, 10-cr-694.

Neither Stevens’ attorney, Reid H. Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C., nor Patrick G. Jasperse, the Washington-based Justice Department attorney who prosecuted the case, returned calls for comment on Tuesday.

In opening statements on April 27, Jasperse told the jury that Stevens “went too far” and that the case was “about lies and deception.”

Weingarten, though, portrayed Stevens as a diligent lawyer who cooperated with FDA investigators honestly and in good faith while zealously representing her client.

“Everything she did was inconsistent with an intent to deceive,” Weingarten said, noting that Stevens, the company’s former vice president and associate general counsel, consulted with the King & Spalding law firm in responding to FDA investigators. “That’s not a cover-up person. That’s a fixer-up person.”

2 comments

  1. Dear Editor:
    Regarding yesterday’s article, Former GlaxoSmithKline Lawyer Acquitted of All Charges, I would like to point out another Department of Justice and FDA case whereby the government’s effort to target an individual in the pharmaceutical industry came up flat.
    The government received a similar setback when its case against W. Scott Harkonen, MD, founder and former CEO of InterMune fizzled at his sentencing. After nearly four years of investigation and tens of millions of dollars for a wire fraud conviction for transmission of a single press release in 2002, the Honorable Judge Marilyn Patel in San Francisco questioned the government’s criminal prosecution of Dr. Harkonen. “It strikes me that there may be other ways of handling violations of this nature besides criminal charges.”

    The FDA did not question the factual basis of the press release, agreeing the facts and data were truthful, but contends the use of the word “demonstrate” (as in these trials demonstrated a given effect) caused the press release to be misleading and therefore illegal. Had the press release used the word show or suggest (as in the trials showed a given effect) the government maintains there would have been no prosecution. Additionally, at Dr. Harkonen’s sentencing hearing, the Court rejected the DoJ’s assertions that Dr. Harkonen’s actions caused any loss or harm to anyone.

    Dr. Harkonen and his legal team are bringing Dr. Harkonen’s case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This case is yet another example of a setback to the government in their quest to target corporate executives.

  2. Once the government targets attorneys (whether in-house or outside counsel) for obstruction-related charges, where the attorney has no involvement or interest in the alleged underlying misconduct, we need to ask serious questions. Client representation is, by its nature, rife with nuances and attorney client privileged communication. It is ill-advised for a government regulatory agency (in this case the FDA), to examine, after the fact, attorney client privileged communications in an effort to build a federal obstruction case against an attorney who did not benefit from the alleged underlying misconduct. That would make the attorney’s job impossible, as a good faith judgment decision made by the attorney during the course of the representation, which ultimately is found to be less than optimal from the government’s point of view (or, with hindsight, even proves to be incorrect) could result in criminal liability for the attorney. Attorneys are retained to represent their clients. They are not pseudo government investigators, and they cannot be expected to be prescient, or to possess divine intuition.
    Ms. Stevens rightfully won this case, but I’m sure the judge’s statement that “this case should never have been brought” will provide her little solace at this point. She has been dragged through many years of painful federal criminal prosecution, having her reputation and career irreperably harmed in the process. Her personal life has likely been permanently affected. Taking on the DOJ is not a decision to be taken lightly – 95% of federal convictions result from pleas. Federal obstruction statutes carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison, and the government has unlimited resources. To say that “this case should never have been brought” seems to belittle the courage that Ms. Stevens displayed in fighting for what’s right. I think we need to take a closer look at “prosecutorial discretion.” There apparently was reluctance by several US attorneys to sign off on this indictment. I wonder who ultimately signed it, and what he or she is doing now? This type of prosection, particularly in an environment of trillion dollar deficits and devastating budget gridlock, is pretty disgraceful.

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