In-House Counsel

Judge Tosses Indictment of In-House Lawyer Accused in Wellbutrin Probe, Cites Prosecutor Error


A federal judge has dismissed an indictment that had accused a former in-house lawyer of obstructing a probe into Wellbutrin off-label marketing, citing a grand juror’s “elephant in the room” question and a prosecutor’s incorrect response.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus of Maryland allows prosecutors to seek a new indictment against Lauren Stevens from a different grand jury “that is properly advised,” Corporate Counsel reports.

Stevens, the former associate general counsel of GlaxoSmithKline, had been accused of obstructing an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration into the pharmaceutical company’s marketing for its Wellbutrin anti-depressant, Reuters Legal reports in its story on the ruling. Stevens had claimed she did not have an intent to commit the crime because she relied on advice by lawyers from King & Spalding.

Titus ruled Stevens can claim the advice-of-counsel defense and said prosecutors erred when a grand juror asked whether the legal advice was relevant. One prosecutor replied that the defense can be raised “once the defendant has been charged,” and another said it wasn’t relevant.

Titus said the replies were wrong, but the error was unintentional. “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 (PDF posted by Am Law Daily). “The incorrect answer either substantially influenced the decision to indict or, at the very least, creates grave doubt as to that decision.”

Bloomberg and Dow Jones Newswires also have coverage.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge Ponders Possible Dismissal of Obstruction Case Against Ex-Glaxo In-House Counsel”

ABAJournal.com: “King & Spalding Advised Ex-Glaxo Lawyer Charged With Obstruction, Defense Filing Says”

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