A judge Thursday dismissed the drug conspiracy convictions of the late Anna Nicole Smith's boyfriend-lawyer Howard K. Stern and her psychiatrist, allowing only one conviction to remain against the physician and reducing it to a misdemeanor.
Superior Court Judge Robert Perry found that Stern never had the intent to defraud when he used his name and others to protect Smith's privacy when he obtained prescriptions for her.
Perry also found that psychiatrist Khristine Eroshevich was acting out of concern for Smith and cited her long career and service to the community in deciding to sentence her to no more than one year of probation and a $100 fine for obtaining one Vicodin prescription under a false name.
"The evidence is that Howard Stern did not have an intent to break the law," Perry said in dismissing conspiracy convictions against Stern.
Without Stern's participation, the judge said, there was no conspiracy between him and Eroshevich, and he dismissed those counts against her as well.
Perry said he considered the jury verdicts "a strong repudiation of the prosecution's case," which he described as overly complicated and not supported by sufficient evidence.
"There is no doubt that there are doctors who are nothing more than pill pushers and should be prosecuted and imprisoned," Perry said. "This case did not involve such doctors."
District Attorney Steve Cooley said he would appeal the ruling.
"His decision denigrates the substantial investigative efforts conducted by the state Department of Justice and the medical board," Cooley said. "It diminishes the huge social problem of prescription drug abuse facilitated by irresponsible caretakers and unscrupulous medical professionals."
Perry said in his lengthy remarks from the bench that the state Legislature has expressed concern about under-treatment of pain patients with opiates because of doctors' concerns about prosecution.
The judge, citing testimony about Smith's quest for pain relief, said, "I certainly believed she was not an addict under the law."
Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, who was previously acquitted of all charges by the jury, sat in the audience with his lawyer. He said he came to support his co-defendants.
The ruling marked the denouement of a long-running drama centering on the blonde beauty's troubled life, which was documented on reality TV, in tabloids and in trial testimony. Smith also made headlines in a continuing $300 million court fight with the estate of her oil tycoon husband.
Both Stern and Eroshevich said they were pleased with the ruling Thursday and believed Smith would be happy with the outcome.
Stern said he was thinking of Smith, his lost love, when the judge announced his decision.
"I was looking up in the sky and thinking, she's vindicated," Stern said.
He said he was pleased that Perry recognized Smith was a victim of chronic pain, not addiction.
"This case never should have been brought," Stern said outside court. "It has been four years of my life."
Eroshevich also said she was happy with the outcome.
"I can live with the misdemeanor," she said. "I don't want to be a martyr. Everyone makes mistakes."
Perry had said in September that he saw weaknesses in the prosecution case but felt he had to let the jury decide most of the charges. He said that in the past he had changed verdicts when he did not agree with them.
At that time, he dismissed two charges against Stern.
"I don't think there's evidence that a layperson knows it's illegal to write a prescription in another name for a celebrity," the judge said then, noting that Stern is not a doctor.
Jurors convicted Stern and Eroshevich of conspiring to violate the false name statute to obtain pain killers for the former Playboy model. Eroshevich also was convicted of obtaining Vicodin by fraud.
The case was launched last year amid much fanfare by then-California Attorney General and now-Gov. Jerry Brown who denounced the defendants as conspirators in over-prescribing prescription drugs to Smith, whom he called "a known addict." He accused the defendants of being lured by Hollywood glamor.
After a three-week preliminary hearing and a nine-week trial, jurors essentially rejected those claims and convicted on few of the 11 charges. Witnesses said Smith was not an addict but a woman struggling with chronic pain.
This week, prosecutors advocated sentencing both defendants to five years of supervised probation, 300 hours each of community service, with Stern working for Caltrans, California's highway maintenance department. They suggested Eroshevich's community service be directed by the California Medical Board and that each defendant pay a $5,000 fine.
Their sentencing memo also asked that Eroshevich, 63, be barred from prescribing controlled substances, which would severely limit her ability to continue practicing medicine. Her lawyer argued she has already lost her reputation and much of her practice and nothing is to be gained from further pillorying of her.
Both Eroshevich and Stern, 41, could have lost their professional licenses if their felony convictions stood.
Stern had been Smith's lawyer, manager, lover and friend since they met in 2001. His lawyer argued that he would never do anything to harm her.
Eroshevich was described as a caring doctor and friend who flew to her side in the Bahamas after Smith's son died of a drug overdose and she went into an emotional decline.
Smith died after suffering a drug overdose in a Florida hotel room in 2007. The death was ruled an accident and the California defendants were not charged with causing her death.