LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge on Wednesday dismissed two felony conspiracy convictions against Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer-boyfriend, ruling it would be unfair to prolong the six-year-old case involving prescription drugs provided to Smith.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry cited numerous problems with the case against Howard K. Stern that centered on his role in obtaining prescription drugs for Smith before the Playboy model and reality TV star died of an accidental overdose in 2007.
In 2010, a jury convicted Stern, 46, of the two conspiracy counts but acquitted him of all other charges of conspiracy, excessive prescribing of opiates and sedatives to an addict, and fraudulently obtaining drugs by using false names.
The case has been the subject of years of appeals. After Perry previously dismissed the two conspiracy charges, prosecutors appealed to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in November that Stern could be re-tried on the counts and left it to Perry to decide the outcome.
Perry noted in his ruling Wednesday that the case had been hanging over Stern's head for more than six years and said he believed the lead prosecutor during the trial had been overzealous in pursuing a conviction.
"This case reeks of unfairness," Perry said.
The judge said prosecutors seemed to be unfairly targeting Stern because he was a public figure and noted the expense in pursuing the case. Perry estimated that just running the courtroom over the course of the 50-day trial cost taxpayers $500,000.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey called Perry's ruling disappointing and said she supported her office's handling of the case.
"For a second time, I believe Judge Perry has abused his discretion by dismissing the charges against Howard K. Stern," Lacey wrote in a statement. "His disregard of the jury's verdict of guilt and of the unanimous decision of the California Court of Appeal finding substantial evidence of Howard K. Stern's guilt is extremely disappointing."
Her statement did not say if the latest ruling would be appealed.
Stern's attorney Steve Sadow said he hoped the district attorney's office would not pursue the case any further.
"I sincerely hope that the D.A. heeds the strong, forceful and true words of Judge Perry and allows this case to end," Sadow said. "Only then would Howard be able to move on."
Defense lawyers have contended that using false names, or in some instances issuing prescriptions for the model in Stern's name, was done to protect Smith's privacy.
Perry agreed and noted that other doctors and hospitals had also used false names for Smith to protect her privacy.
"Everyone did it," Perry said. "Everyone did it to protect her privacy from the prying eyes of the ever-present press representatives in Ms. Smith's life."
The jury in 2010 also convicted Smith's psychiatrist Khristine Eroshevich of conspiracy charges. She was sentenced in April to a year of probation, which she has already served, after Perry reduced one of the counts against her to a misdemeanor and dismissed the other because it was redundant.
Prescriptions the psychiatrist wrote for opiates, muscle relaxants and other drugs were found in the Florida hotel room where Smith died.
Smith's internist, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, was acquitted of all charges. Perry noted in April when he sentenced Eroshevich that Kapoor had no criminal record and didn't have ill intent.
Stern, Eroshevich and Kapoor were not charged with causing the death of Smith.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney tried to persuade Perry on Wednesday that he should not impose the "draconian sanction" of dismissal and said his office was trying to protect lawfully obtained felony convictions.
He said Stern's conduct differed from the medical professionals who treated Smith, because the lawyer knew his girlfriend was obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors.
Carney declined comment after the hearing, but told Perry his criticism of the prosecution was akin to an ambush.
Stern had been Smith's lawyer, manager, lover and friend since they met in 2001. Testimony showed they were inseparable, even when she was involved with other men.
In 2006, Smith donned a wedding gown, and she and Stern had a commitment ceremony on a catamaran off the Bahamas. They exchanged rings and vows but were never legally married.
Sadow told jurors during the 2010 trial that Smith was the love of Stern's life and he would never harm her.
Sadow also has argued that his client did not know it was illegal to obtain prescriptions under false names, and that Stern was relying on medical professionals to help Smith deal with chronic pain.
Associated Press Writer Linda S. Zhang contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to fix the quote from Stern's attorney Steve Sadow.