California, Legal Ethics, Media and Journalism, Paralegals

Stephen Glass Isn’t A Lawyer Just Because Of The Whole ‘Serial Lying’ Thing

Not what the image of lawyers that the California Supreme Court wants to support.

A former journalist turned law school graduate went to the state of California and asked to be admitted to the practice of law.

California said no.

The problem was his practice of “making up stories” for a few years while working at The New Republic.

A well-documented history of lying is not a great testament to the moral fitness of a prospective lawyer, but does this particular transgression really justify denying Stephen Glass’s application?

The California Supreme Court issued a lengthy opinion describing Stephen Glass — the former New Republic writer who graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, passed the New York and California bar exams, and now works as a paralegal — as lacking the moral chops to serve as a lawyer:

Glass not only spent two years producing damaging articles containing or entirely made up of fabrications, thereby deluding the public, maligning individuals, and disparaging ethnic minorities, he also routinely expended considerable efforts to fabricate background materials to dupe the fact checkers assigned to vet his work. When exposure threatened, he redoubled his efforts to hide his misconduct, going so far as to create a phony Web site and business cards and to recruit his brother to pose as a source. In addition, to retain his position, he engaged in a spirited campaign among the leadership at The New Republic to characterize [editor Charles] Lane’s obviously well-founded concerns as unfair and to retain his position.

A much less forgiving tone than when this same body ruled that someone residing in America without documents could practice law.

Sure, Glass exhibited dishonest conduct that we wouldn’t want to see in a lawyer. But is there no accounting for rehabilitation? That’s the take of David Plotz[1] of Slate, who has personal reason to hate Glass:

For 10 years, Stephen Glass has been performing virtually all the work of a lawyer for a law firm in California. He is noted for his attention to detail, his care for clients, and his honesty. Exactly how much longer would he need to work in this dedicated way for the justices to forgive? One more year? Five? Ten? How’s never? In the Bible, Jacob served 14 years: Would that be enough?

That’s an excellent point. After all, Shon Hopwood robbed banks and has successfully shown complete rehabilitation. At some point, people have paid their debt. The decision claims that Glass was misleading in evidentiary hearings by failing to be entirely forthright about the extent of his cooperation with publications in correcting his false reporting. But this felt like stretching — the Supreme Court was just unwilling to forgive and forget when it came to a case of high-profile dishonesty like this one.

So California can safely pat itself on the back for keeping the courthouse doors closed to someone that multiple witnesses averred had moved on from his past and worked as a highly competent law clerk. Good job. You still let this guy practice though, so maybe you’ve got it all wrong.

(Flip to the next page to read the California Supreme Court’s complete opinion.)

[1] The listeners on Plotz’s excellent Political Gabfest podcast always cap on him, but he’s unfairly maligned.

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