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Criminalization of the Practice of Law

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When attorney F. Lee Bailey was indicted for mail fraud in 1973, he quoted a popular aphorism referencing the difference between how England and the U.S. treat their criminal defense lawyers.  “In England they are apt to be knighted; in the United States they are apt to be indicted.”  There is quite a bit of truth in the saying and the dangers inherent in practicing law in the U.S. are not only faced by defense lawyers.  Sensing an opportunity, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has recently set its sights on corporate in-house counsel.

In November, 2010, Lauren Stevens, a former vice president and general counsel for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, was indicted on federal charges of making false statements and obstructing a federal investigation.  Stevens was accused of making false and misleading statements in a series of letters to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on behalf of her employer.  Despite it having been obvious from the beginning that Stevens was only relaying information furnished by her client and had no intent or motive to mislead federal investigators, she was enthusiastically pursued by the DOJ.  “Where facts and law allow, the Justice Department will pursue individuals responsible for illegal conduct just as vigorously as we pursue corporations,” Tony West, assistant attorney general for the civil division, said in a statement.  It should be noted that despite the DOJ’s stated commitment to pursue corporations, GlaxoSmithKline’s name was noticeably absent from the Stevens indictment.  West continued, “Criminal charges are appropriate when false statements such as those alleged here are made to the FDA.”

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