California Won't Let Disgraced Journalist Stephen Glass Become a Lawyer

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 27 2014 4:05 PM

California Won't Let Disgraced Journalist Stephen Glass Become a Lawyer

Stephen Glass, the former reporter who saw his journalism career unravel after being discovered to be a serial fabricator back in the 1990s, can't become a lawyer in California, the state's supreme court ruled today. Here's the Los Angeles Times with the broad brush strokes from today's ruling:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

In a unanimous, unsigned ruling, the California Supreme Court said Glass had demonstrated a pattern for deceit for which he has not adequately atoned. Glass has failed to "establish that he engaged in truly exemplary conduct over an extended period," the court said. "We conclude that on this record he has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law." ...
The California bar found him morally unfit in 2009, but he won an appeal after a confidential, 10-day trial in which colleagues, friends, employers and his psychiatrists testified. Bar examiners then asked the California Supreme Court to deny him a license.

Glass placed one foot in the legal world even before his journalism career fell apart, beginning law school at Georgetown University back in 1997—after he had begun fabricating magazine articles but before he was fired by The New Republic once his editors caught him doing so. All told, he was found to have fabricated at least 42 articles for TNR, Rolling Stone and other magazines during a three-year period that began in 1995.

After eventually earning his degree, he went on to pass the bar in California, but had been repeatedly blocked from getting his law license due to lingering questions about his moral character tied to his past abuses of journalism ethics. (According to the California high court, Glass also passed the bar in New York in 2004 but withdrew his application for a law license in the Empire State after he was tipped off to the fact that his moral character application would be rejected.) His application to become a lawyer in California had been pending for the past six years.

For those who have forgotten the nitty gritty details surrounding Glass' journalistic sins, here's how Slate editor David Plotz summed things up back in 2003 (while writing about Shattered Glass, a 2003 movie based on Glass' downfall):

Glass didn't merely doctor quotes and plagiarize colleagues. He concocted imaginary characters and organizations ("The First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ"), then manufactured fake notes, business cards, and even a Web site in order to trick editors into believing his stories were real. (Compared to Glass, Jayson Blair was an amateur.)

While Glass has been unable to earn the license he'd need to practice law, it hasn't prevented him from earning a paycheck from a law firm. According to the Times, Glass has worked as a paralegal since 2004 at a personal injury firm, where he "drafts complex legal motions," and "advises on strategy and meets with clients." But the law mandates that, without a license, all of his work be closely supervised by a licensed attorney.

Note: A quick search of Slate's archives turns up at least one Glass-penned article: a 1997 piece on that took issue with the then-relatively young website and its claim to being "earth's biggest bookstore."

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 



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