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Should a notorious liar and fake be a California lawyer?

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Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 11:32 am

Should Stephen Glass be allowed to practice law in California?

That’s a hot question now in legal and media circles, as Glass is a notorious journalistic fraud who some say has never shown true contrition for his misdeeds.

In 1996, Glass was the rising star reporter for The New Republic magazine until it was discovered he had been faking it. Making up scenes, passages, even whole stories. He was fired in disgrace and his rise and fall was the subject of the excellent movie, “Shattered Glass.”

I show the movie in my mass communications class at Delta College and it invariably sparks a robust discussion of ethics, professional standards and gatekeeping. But this semester there was a fresh twist to the discussion: Stephen Glass wants to practice law in California.

After being jettisoned from The New Republic, Glass was graduated from Georgetown University Law School, then applied for admission to the New York Bar. He passed the bar but withdrew his application when it became clear his application would be denied based on his ethical baggage.

He published a novel, called “The Fabulist,” which flopped. He quietly moved to California and began working as a paralegal in Beverly Hills.

But while his ethics are suspect, his smarts and ambition are not. Glass took the California bar exam, passed, then applied for a finding of moral fitness. He was rejected by the Committee of Bar Examiners. The State Bar Court, however, ruled in his favor. The bar examiners have appealed and now the ethics of Stephen Glass have become an issue for the state Supreme Court.

Glass has many supporters, including the former publisher of The New Republic, his boss at the Beverly Hills law firm, and one of his professors at Georgetown Law. They say Glass, who has undergone years of therapy, is a profoundly changed man. He is fastidiously honest, they say, a man of introspection and integrity who has earned his redemption.

Others remain skeptical, saying Stephen Glass has merely gone through the motions of redemption, and even then only when those motions suited his interests.

They point out that Glass did not apologize for his misdeeds until he began applying to become a lawyer. He made $170,000 from his book but never shared the proceeds with any organization dealing with ethics or journalism. He also failed to come clean about the extent of his fabrications until 11 years after being fired from The New Republic.

So should Glass be allowed to practice law in California?

Show of hands, I asked my class.

Roughly 35 said yes, give him a chance at redemption.

Only two said no.

The Supreme Court will take up the matter later this year.

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