(CN) – A federal judge in Maryland has acquitted the former GlaxoSmithKline lawyer whom the government indicted for obstruction of justice and making false statements in connection to the pharmaceutical giant’s marketing of a popular antidepressant.
In a rare direct verdict to exclude the jury, U.S. District Judge Roger Titus threw out the case against Lauren Stevens on May 10 – the same day that attorneys filed 95 pages of exhibits for the anticipated trial.
“It is hereby ordered the defendant is acquitted, discharged, and any bond exonerated,” Titus’ terse, one-line order states, providing no clue as to the rationale behind his decision.
Stevens, a former vice president and associate general counsel for the pharmaceutical giant, was indicted in November 2010 for concealing information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency had been investigating the drugmaker’s alleged promotion of Wellbutrin antidepressants for off-label uses, such as treating obesity.
The case marked the first time federal prosecutors had targeted an individual pharmaceutical executive for wrongdoing instead of an entire company.
Prosecutors have had a difficult time making the charges stick. In March, Titus found that federal prosecutors gave “erroneous and prejudicial” legal advice during the grand jury proceeding.
When a grand jury member asked whether it was relevant if Stevens relied on advice of other lawyers, prosecutors should have explained that such good faith reflects a lack of wrongful intent to violate the law, according to the earlier ruling.
Prosecutors improperly instructed the grand jury that the question was not an issue that the grand jury needed to consider, Titus said.
Finding that this lapse did not constitute willful prosecutorial misconduct, Titus at the time gave the government a shot to seek a new indictment.