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Federal Judge Acquits GlaxoSmithKline Attorney

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On May 10, 2011, a federal district court judge took the rare action of acquitting former GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”) in-house counsel Lauren Stevens of all criminal charges at the close of the government’s case. The charges against Stevens stemmed from a 2002 FDA investigation into whether GSK improperly promoted the anti-depressant Wellbutrin for weight loss, an unapproved use. In a case jointly brought by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and the Justice Department’s Office of Consumer Litigation in Washington, D.C., the government alleged that Stevens covered up unfavorable documents and information from the FDA. A six-count indictment charged Stevens with Obstruction of a Proceeding in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512; Falsification/Concealment of Documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519; and four counts of False Statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

After the government rested its prosecution and before Stevens put on her defense, Judge Roger W. Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted Stevens’ motion for acquittal under Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. This procedurally uncommon move – it was the judge’s first time granting such a motion in his 7 ½ years on the bench – in all likelihood puts an end to the Stevens case, as the Justice Department probably cannot appeal it under the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy rule.

Judge Titus explained, “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.”

If it had been successful, this prosecution of in-house counsel would have had significant repercussions on attorney-client privilege. Judge Titus recognized these consequences, opining, “[T]here are serious implications for the practice of law generated by this prosecution. . . . There is an enormous potential for abuse in allowing prosecution of an attorney for the giving of legal advice. I conclude that the defendant in this case should never have been prosecuted and she should be permitted to resume her career.”

The courtroom transcript of this decision is available for download here.

This alert was prepared by Nutter’s Government Investigations and White Collar Defense practice group. For more information please contact your Nutter attorney at 617-439-2000.

This article is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising. 

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