Federal Judge Acquits Ex-Glaxo Lawyer Before Defense Even Starts

May 10, 2011

Even for someone who's not a legal beagle, I know this doesn't happen often.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus in Greenbelt, Md., tossed the government's case against a former GlaxoSmithKline lawyer before her defense team called a single witness.

The federal government alleged that Lauren Stevens, once an in-house lawyer for the drug giant, had obstructed a Food and Drug Administration investigation into Glaxo's marketing of the antidepressant Wellbutrin as a weight-loss aid.

There were a half-dozen separate counts that alleged, among other things, she concealed information and made false statements to the feds.

But after the government has made its case at trial, her lawyers said the feds had:

failed to present evidence sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the six counts against Ms. Stevens. For this reason, the Court should enter a judgment of acquittal ....

Judge Titus agreed, dealing a setback to the FDA'sefforts to go after individuals for their alleged misdeeds at regulated corporations.

In an opinion reported by Corporate Counsel, the judge wrote:

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.

Last November, when the case was filed, Ropes & Gray's Brien O'Connor, one of the lawyers representing Stevens, predicted she would be exonerated. In a statement to Shots, he wrote:

Lauren Stevens is an utterly decent and honorable woman. She is not guilty of obstruction or of making false statements. Everything she did in this case was consistent with ethical lawyering and the advice provided her by a nationally prominent law firm retained by her employer specifically because of its experience in working with FDA. She looks forward to the day when a judge and jury can hear the true facts in this case, which will show that she has done absolutely nothing wrong.

To see the defense's winning argument click here.

Titus said it's the first time in 7 1/2 years on the bench that he has granted an acquittal before the defense even mounted its case, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Justice Department can't appeal the decision, the paper wrote.

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