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November 9, 2010 11:50 AM

Ropes & Gray, Steptoe Representing GSK In-house Lawyer Charged by Feds

Posted by Brian Baxter

Update #1, 11/9/10, 12:40 p.m. Corporate Counsel, a sibling publication, has more on the Stevens indictment here. The fifth paragraph below has been updated with a statement from Stevens's lawyers.

Update #2, 12/22/10, 9:48 a.m. Reuters reports that King & Spalding was the outside law firm that advised Stevens during the government's inquiry into GSK.

Lauren Stevens, vice president and associate general counsel at GlaxoSmithKline in Raleigh-Durham, has been charged by federal prosecutors with obstruction of justice and making false statements during an FDA probe into the company's promotion of a prescription drug.

The Justice Department announced Stevens's indictment on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., although the charges against the GSK in-house lawyer were filed in U.S. district court in Maryland, where the FDA is based. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in Boston and the civil division's office of consumer litigation at Main Justice.

Ropes & Gray litigation partners Brien O'Connor in Boston and Colleen Conroy in Washington, D.C., are representing Stevens along with Steptoe & Johnson partners Reid Weingarten and William Hassler. The legal team has been personally hired by Stevens and has not been retained through GSK, according to a source close to the case.

Weingarten is a high-powered litigator known for representing high-profile clients like former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and ex-Tyco general counsel Mark Belnick, who was acquitted on fraud charges in 2004.

"Lauren Stevens is an utterly decent and honorable woman. She is not guilty of obstruction or of making false statements," Stevens's lawyers said in a statement to The Am Law Daily. "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 the FDA. She looks forward to the day when a judge and jury can hear the true facts in the case, which will show that she has done absolutely nothing wrong."

In an 18-page Indictment, federal prosecutors allege that Stevens impeded an FDA inquiry in 2002 into unapproved uses of an unnamed prescription drug. GSK, which did immediately return a call requesting comment, has not been charged in the case.

"There is a difference between legal advocacy based on the facts and distorting the facts to cover up the truth," said a statement by Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts. "Federal agencies such as the FDA cannot protect the public health if the entities and individuals they regulate provide false information and conceal the true facts."

Last month Covington & Burling represented GSK when it agreed to pay $750 million to settle criminal and civil complaints accusing the company of selling tainted drugs from a shuttered factory in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. attorney's office in Boston has been among the most active in prosecuting alleged misdeeds in the pharmaceutical industry, securing settlements with Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer.

Ropes's O'Connor, a partner in the firm's health care litigation group, took the lead representing Pfizer last year when it decided to pay $2.3 billion in fines and penalties to settle charges accusing the company of illegally marketing several drugs for off-label uses and paying kickbacks to doctors. The firm has relationships with other large pharmaceutical companies.

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