Thursday, December 1, 2011

California Supreme Court will hear disgraced journalist’s moral character case

Stephen Glass was once described by Vanity Fair as “the most sought-after young reporter in the nation’s capital, producing knockout articles for magazines ranging from The New Republic to Rolling Stone.”  It was later discovered, however, that many of his articles were completely fabricated and he was exposed as a fraud.

Glass wrote some of the false articles while attending Georgetown law school.  He graduated and passed the bar exams in New York and California.  However, he has not been admitted to practice in either state.  According to the California Bar Journal, he withdrew his application in New York after learning his admission would likely be denied, and his application in California was, in fact, denied by the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE).

This decision, however, was overruled by both a State Bar Court hearing judge and a split review panel. The CBE appealed the decision and the California Supreme Court granted review.

This is the first time in 11 years that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case of a candidate denied admission to the State Bar because of moral character issues.

The argument of the CBE is essentially that Glass' conduct shows disregard for honesty and trust and that he “has not established the requisite showing of rehabilitation."

This is an interesting case, and a close call.  On the one hand, there should be no doubt that the conduct would have been sufficient to get Glass disciplined if he had engaged in it while he was a lawyer.  And, given the fact that he engaged in the conduct while he was a law student, I think there is plenty of support for the argument that Glass lacks the character expected of a member of the profession.  For a similar case, see In re Lamberis, 443 N.E.2d 549 (Ill. 1982), a case in which the lawyer was disciplined for engaging in plagiarism.  One interesting aspect of that case is the wide range of sanctions considered by the those evaluating the conduct.

On the other hand, Glass has argued that the conduct is now in his past, that he has learned his lesson and that he has been rehabilitated.  And this is the key.  What kind of evidence of "rehabilitation" should be require to defeat the notion that past misconduct can be used to predict future conduct?

That is a tough question indeed.  Do you believe that people "can change"?  How much do you trust people when they say "I won't do it again" - whatever that "it" is?

According to reports, Glass apparently has the support of some of the editors of the publications he lied to in the past, but the CBE contends that Glass' actions do not support his allegations arguing that Glass made misrepresentations to the New York bar when trying to win admission there.

I find this last allegation very troubling.   How can we really trust a candidate who says we should be confident we can trust him if it is true he has lied in an attempt to get admitted?  If I were voting on this case, and the CBE proved the allegation that the candidate made misrepresentations in the bar application in NY, I would vote against admission.

No date has been set for oral argument at the Supreme Court, so stay tuned.


  1. I _disagree_ it's a close call. What you have on the plus side is a many prestigious lawyers offering opinions on a matter regarding which they have no real expertise (understanding a psychopath who also has a borderline personality disorder); on the negative side, specific disqualifying facts:

    "Glass has never come completely clean about the total number of fabrications and lies he told at The New Republic and has minimized the extent of his deceptions in applying to the California Bar." -- [Glass omitted even more when he applied to the New York Bar]

    The information in the quote above is attributed to the guy most familiar with Glass, whom Glass did *not* call as a character witness, his former editor at New Republic (where Glass did most but not all of his lying) Charles Lane.

    By the way, I don't think Glass did this stuff while he was a law student. He went to law school *after* being drummed out of journalism.

    He is so clearly unrehabilitated, it seems to me, that the real question is how the California State Bar Court could have missed the boat, a question I address in "Now it’s Judge Honn’s turn to be the state-bar establishment laughing stock: The Stephen A. Glass embarrassment," at

  2. Thanks for the comment. I will post a link to your article separately.