Court weighs granting disgraced journalist Stephen Glass law license
SACRAMENTO — Stephen R. Glass, a former journalist whose fabrications for major magazines sparked a national furor, bent his head at times and reddened as he listened to members of the California Supreme Court suggest he was morally unfit to practice law.
When he was in his 20s, Glass fabricated 42 articles for the New Republic, Rolling Stone and other magazines, concocting people, quotations and events in blistering stories that won him rave reviews but also raised suspicions.
Now 41, a law clerk and graduate of a prestigious law school, Glass is the subject of a California Supreme Court case that will determine whether he has rehabilitated enough to practice law. The court, meeting for arguments here, seemed overwhelmingly inclined to say no. A ruling is due in 90 days.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, in a prosecutorial tone, spent several minutes listing Glass’ past sins, describing fabrication after fabrication that hurt the reputation of people and companies. Judges must rely on the veracity of lawyers, she said.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye observed that Glass was involved in a “a depth of deception that was pretty sophisticated” and failed for several years “to completely come clean about all the articles that harmed people.”
Justice Marvin R. Baxter noted that Glass’ prior conduct was not an isolated incident, but a pattern “over a long period of time.”
Justice Ming W. Chin said Glass had benefited from his misconduct by earning money from a novel he wrote about his experience.
And so it went, for an hour.
Rachel Grunberg, representing an admissions committee of the state bar, called Glass “the perpetrator of one of the greatest frauds in American journalism” and “an infamous serial liar.”
“We don’t think he should ever be admitted based on this record,” Grunberg said.
Glass, now a paralegal at a Los Angeles law firm, sat grim-faced in a suit and tie next to his fiancee, just a few rows from the judges. The Los Angeles lawyer who hired him as a paralegal and has attested to both his legal acumen and his high ethics sat a row behind.
Glass committed his journalistic transgressions in the 1990s, when he was a writer for the New Republic. The magazine initially stood behind him when subjects complained. To cover up his misdeeds, Glass invented notes, a website, business cards and voicemails. He even had his brother once pose as a source to persuade his editor of his veracity.
After he was fired, Glass graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, spent years in psychoanalysis and tried to obtain a license to practice law in New York. He withdrew his application when it became clear the New York bar was going to reject him on moral grounds.
He moved to California in 2004, settling in Los Angeles, passing the California bar examination and landing the paralegal job. He applied for a California law license, but the bar turned him down in 2009. He challenged the decision and won during a 10-day closed bar trial in which his employer, his psychiatrist, his law professors, a judge and even the former owner of the New Republic said he should be given a law license.
Glass testified that he fabricated because he wanted his editor “to love me, like I wanted my father to love me.”
The committee of bar examiners, which oversees admission matters, appealed, and a bar appellate court again ruled for Glass. The bar committee then asked the California Supreme Court, which has the final say on lawyers’ licenses, to examine his case.
Jon B. Eisenberg, Glass’ lawyer, told the court that there was no dispute that Glass has had an unblemished record for at least 11 years. Glass told the New York bar that he had assisted the deceived publications in correcting his falsehoods but some editors said later they received little or no help from him.
Eisenberg told the court that Glass was “a wreck” after his firing, suicidal and subject to public ridicule, and did what he could to help the publications. “The issue is today, and does he have integrity today,” Eisenberg said.
Several justices pressed Eisenberg to explain how Glass had atoned for his mistakes, either through community work or charity giving.
Eisenberg said Glass has worked during his time off to assist poor clients, handled pro bono cases for his firm and developed a reputation for “impeccable honesty.”
“He has changed himself,” the lawyer said.
The justices seemed unimpressed. Baxter even compared Glass to Watergate conspirators who broke the law under the Nixon administration.
Glass left the courtroom with his fiancee and declined requests for interviews. “No, not today, thank you,” he said with a polite smile. Lawyers say his legal fight for a law license has probably cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With his hands in his pockets, he moved away from the crowd spilling out of the courthouse and headed down the street, leaving his colleagues and his lawyer behind.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.