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Supreme Court bars Glass, Grant from practicing law

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

In separate rulings last month, the California Supreme Court cited a need to maintain public confidence and respect for the legal profession when it excluded two people from the practice of law for their moral lapses.

In one case the court denied admission to a former journalist with a track record of fabricating stories, and in the other case the court disbarred a convicted sex offender.

On Jan. 23, the court found that a felony conviction for possession of child pornography warrants summary disbarment. In re Gary D. Grant on Discipline, S197503.

The court held that because such a conviction alone constitutes moral turpitude, the State Bar Court doesn’t need to first hold a hearing to determine whether the individual circumstances of the conviction involved moral turpitude.

“Today’s decision recognizes that belonging to the legal profession is a privilege and not a right,” State Bar CEO Joseph Dunn said. “The bar’s ability to hold attorneys to the highest standards is critical in maintaining the integrity of the profession.”

In its unanimous ruling, the court acknowledged that the definition of moral turpitude is elusive, but Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote, “In attorney discipline cases, moral turpitude should be defined with the aim of protecting the public, promoting confidence in the legal system and maintaining high professional standards.”

The opinion relied on a 2001 case in which a lawyer was disbarred after being convicted of attempting to commit a lewd act on a child age 14 or 15, In re Lesansky (2001) 25 Cal.4th 11.

Corrigan also pointed out that the California Legislature has taken a harsh stance on possession of child porn, amending the law to cover images of children ages 14 to 17 and requiring lifetime registration as a sex offender.

“That enactment constitutes an articulation by the Legislation that this behavior is so repugnant to accepted societal standards as to constitute morally turpitudinous behavior per se,” Corrigan wrote.

On Jan. 27, the court refused to admit disgraced journalist Stephen Glass due to the widespread deception he committed as a magazine journalist in the 1990s. The court rejected Glass’ argument that he had rehabilitated himself since being caught fabricating material in 42 articles in The New Republic and other publications and making up more lies to cover his tracks. In re Stephen Randall Glass on Admission, S196374.

The court found that Glass did not come clean about all of the lies until he applied to become a lawyer in California nearly 10 years later.

“Many of his efforts … seem to have been directed primarily at advancing his own well-being rather than returning something to the community," the court said in its unanimous unsigned ruling.

Although the Committee of Bar Examiners initially denied his admission on moral character grounds, the State Bar Court found that Glass had rehabilitated himself and in 2010 recommended he be given a law license.

The Committee of Bar Examiners appealed to the California Supreme Court, which declined his admission.

“The ruling today vindicates the idea that honesty is of paramount importance in the practice of law in California,” State Bar President Luis J. Rodriguez said.

The court acknowledged that many people supported Glass’ bid to become a lawyer, emphasizing his talent and commitment to the legal profession and arguing for his redemption.

“(W)hat is at stake is not compassion for Glass.… Given our duty to protect the public and maintain the integrity and high standards of the profession, our focus is on the applicant’s moral fitness to practice law,” the court wrote. “On this record, the applicant failed to carry his heavy burden of establishing his rehabilitation and current fitness.”

Under State Bar rules, applicants who are denied admission may reapply again after two years.

The Grant case was argued by Assistant General Counsel Mark Torres-Gil. The Glass case was argued by Assistant General Counsel Rachel Grunberg.