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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal judge in California on Tuesday dismissed stock options backdating-related charges against Broadcom Corp co-founder Henry Nicholas and former Chief Financial Officer William Ruehle, citing allegations of misconduct by prosecutors. Carney ruled that Ruehle, 67, could not defend himself because prosecutors had "intimidated" witnesses. District Judge Cormac Carney also ordered prosecutors to explain at a February 2 hearing why they should be allowed to proceed with a separate drug possession trial against Nicholas, set for 2010.The backdating of stock options grants -- used extensively to lure and retain top talent -- became a major issue in 2007, with more than 170 companies investigated by U. authorities or conducting internal inquiries into possible manipulation of stock-option grant dates to benefit recipients.The probes typically centered on whether companies were awarding executives backdated options after a spike in the share price, making the instruments more valuable.A federal appeals court in August ordered a new trial for former Brocade Communications Corp CEO Gregory Reyes over prosecutors' false statements to a jury and their failure to hand over evidence to Reyes' attorneys.Reyes was the only other CEO to face criminal charges in the government's long-running stock options backdating investigation, which resulted in probes of options granting practices at about 170 companies.FILE - In this May 27, 2009 file photo, former Broadcom CEO Henry J.Nicholas III, center, watches the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets play during the first half at Game 5 in the NBA Western Conference finals playoff basketball series, in Los Angeles. Nicholas III and former Chief Financial Officer William Ruehle in their stock option backdating case because of prosecutorial misconduct.(AP Photo/Mark J.

Ruehle, left, and his attorney Richard Marmaro leave the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Calif. more A federal judge has dismissed fraud and conspiracy charges in the stock-option backdating case against Broadcom Corp. District Judge Cormac Carney also asked prosecutors to explain why a separate drug indictment against Nicholas should not also be thrown out, and he dismissed a civil case the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against four Broadcom executives.

The practice isn't illegal if properly disclosed and accounted for.

"If someone had used the word 'illegal' in a discussion with me, I would have remembered that," said Samueli, testifying in the trial after winning limited immunity from a federal judge in return for testifying in Ruehle's case.

Additionally, companies can use backdating to produce greater executive incomes without having to report higher expenses to their shareholders, which can lower company earnings and/or cause the company to fall short of earnings predictions and public expectations.

Corporations, however, have defended the practice of stock option backdating with their legal right to issue options that are already in the money as they see fit, as well as the frequent occurrence in which a lengthy approval process is required.

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