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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Supreme Court will hear disgraced journalist’s
moral character case

By Nancy McCarthy
Staff Writer

For the first time in 11 years, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a would-be lawyer denied admission to the State Bar because of moral character issues. The bar petitioned the court to consider the case of Stephen Glass, a disgraced former journalist who won national infamy for making up whole or parts of stories and now wants to practice law in California. Although the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) denied Glass admission on moral character grounds, it was overruled by both a State Bar Court hearing judge and a split review panel that said he should be admitted. The Supreme Court granted review last month on a petition from the CBE.

Stephen Glass

“Journalism and law share core fundamental principles ― those of common honesty and trust,” wrote bar attorney Rachel Grunberg in the petition seeking review. She added that Glass “literally shattered these basic values in the journalism profession, without redemption.” The Committee of Bar Examiners believes Glass “has not established the requisite showing of rehabilitation, given his past misdeeds that have lingered without redemption, to be certified as an attorney” in California, Grunberg wrote.

Glass was once described by Vanity Fair as “the most sought-after young reporter in the nation’s capital, producing knockout articles for magazines ranging from The New Republic to Rolling Stone.”  The magazine went on to explain that Glass spun “a breathtaking web of deception that emerged as the most sustained fraud in modern journalism.” The New Republic fired him, finding fabricated material in 27 articles bearing Glass’ byline at the magazine.

It wasn’t until 11 years after “he was outted as a fraud,” Grunberg wrote, that Glass finally compiled a comprehensive list of all of his fabricated articles, totaling 42. He attended Georgetown law school while still working at TNR and authoring false articles, he took and passed the July 2000 New York bar exam, applied for a moral character determination there in 2002 but withdrew after learning his admission would likely be denied, published a book and appeared on 60 Minutes in 2003, and took and passed the California bar exam in 2009.

Glass argues that his current moral character makes him eligible to become an attorney and that he presented “overwhelming evidence” of his rehabilitation. Indeed, Martin Peretz, the editor of The New Republic, which printed the lion’s share of his fabrications, flew from Massachusetts to California to testify on Glass’ behalf before the State Bar Court. Glass said in a submission to the Supreme Court that he was forgiven by other editors as well, including Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and Lewis Lapham of Harper’s.

Glass presented more than 20 witnesses who testified to his “good moral character,” apologized publicly for his actions, underwent therapy and performed extensive pro bono work. His misconduct ended when he was 25, he said, and his values have changed.

Grunberg dismissed virtually all his arguments and said true rehabilitation means an unblemished record ― something Glass cannot provide. She said he made misrepresentations to the New York bar when trying to win admission there, his pro bono work was part of his regular duties as a paralegal for a Los Angeles law firm, and his remorse came more than a decade late, only “when it suited him, and not when it was most needed by his victims.”

Further, the bar said Glass profited from his misdeeds, earning $190,000, less agent’s fees, from publication of The Fabulist, a fictionalized account of his lies. Glass said he used the profits for his legal fees and therapy, but the bar said the book proceeds were used “exclusively for his own personal benefit.” The concept of profiting from wrongdoing “appears inconsistent with the notion of moral rehabilitation,” Grunberg wrote, adding that Glass appeared to be “cashing in on his infamy.”

Arthur Margolis, Glass’ attorney, declined to comment. Glass works as a paralegal at Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley LLP in Los Angeles.

No date for oral arguments has been set, but Glass has 45 days from the date of the Nov. 16 court order to file a supplemental brief. The bar then has 15 days to file a reply.