The federal court docket in the case of Deborah Madden, 62, of San Mateo, shows that Madden is scheduled to enter a change of plea before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco on March 15.
Madden's defense attorney, Paul DeMeester, said today, "The U.S. attorney and I are working on resolving this case based on a misdemeanor charge of simple possession of cocaine."
"We're working on the details," DeMeester said.
A spokesman for prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco could not immediately be reached for comment.
Madden has been charged with the federal crime of obtaining a controlled drug by means of fraud, deception or subterfuge.
That crime carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison upon conviction, whereas the lesser misdemeanor possession charge has a maximum sentence of one year.
Madden's two previous trials on the more serious charge in Illston's court ended in mistrials in October and January with jurors unable to agree on a verdict.
Madden has admitted she took bits of cocaine from the laboratory's drug analysis unit in offices at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, but has maintained she took only trace amounts spilled during weighing.
DeMeester argued during the two trials that there was no proof of the element of fraud or deception needed for a conviction because she simply took what was in front of her.
Madden's actions and other problems at the laboratory led to the temporary closure of the drug analysis unit and the district attorney's dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases that depended on evidence analyzed at the unit.
DeMeester said last fall that Madden had offered to plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge, but said prosecutors at that time had refused the proposed plea deal.
Madden, a 29-year civilian employee of the Police Department, went on leave and entered an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program in December 2009, and retired permanently in March 2010.