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FEDERAL PROSECUTORS and defense attorneys in the case of the indicted former in-house lawyer for GlaxoSmithKline are sparring over whether state ethics rules for attorneys can be entered into evidence. According to letters written this week by both sides to U.S. district court judge Roger Titus in Greenbelt, Maryland, prosecutors intend to introduce North Carolina ethics rules when the criminal trial begins on April 26 for Lauren Stevens, formerly an associate general counsel at Durham-based Glaxo. Stevens is charged with obstruction and making false statements during a federal inquiry into off-label marketing of drugs. The feds also want to introduce a law professor’s expert testimony on a lawyer’s ethical obligations, as well as detailed evidence of, and material from, various ethics training that Stevens had. The evidence will help prove the defendant’s intent and state of mind, and help rebut her contention that she was acting in good faith on the advice of counsel, wrote assistant U.S. attorney Sara Bloom. The ethics evidence is also “necessary to clarify for the jury what should not be in dispute: that it is not part of a lawyer’s job to lie or obstruct . . . [and] to ensure that the jury is not confused by popular notions of what lawyers do . . . that lawyers lying or obstructing is somehow legal or part of their job,” Bloom added. Defense lawyer William Hassler, of Steptoe & Johnson, urged the court in his letter to not admit the ethics rules or, at a minimum, to preclude any expert testimony and corresponding materials regarding the rules. Hassler argued that the state rules governing professional conduct of lawyers are not relevant to proving that a crime was committed. The ethics evidence also “would create a significant risk of insinuating to the jury that, as a lawyer, Ms. Stevens is somehow held to a higher standard of honesty or conduct than nonlawyers in the eyes of the law,” Hassler wrote. He also argued that allowing expert testimony from law professor would be improper, and could “confuse and mislead the jury into believing Ms. Stevens should be held to a subjective standard of care as defined by the expert.” Finally Hassler objected to admitting evidence of the ethics and corporate fraud training courses attended by Stevens. The courses aren’t relevant, he argued, and some of the materials are highly inflammatory. They “are littered with prejudicial innuendo of unethical conduct by attorneys” — including references to Dante’s view of lawyers and their special place in hell (“lower than that of thieves.”), according to Hassler’s letter. In effect, Hassler wrote, “the government seeks to generate a sideshow that could create the misleading impression that Ms. Stevens is unethical and thus, by implication, guilty of criminal violations.” The prosecutors offered a compromise, though. Let the defense stipulate to four key rules of ethics, and include an appropriate limiting instruction to the jury that makes clear “that a violation of the ethics rules does not constitute proof of the crimes charged, but is only evidence that the jury may consider in determining whether the defendant was providing good faith legal representation.” Bloom also offered to consider redacting some materials, including “any references to Dante and his view of lawyers.”

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