Stephen Glass, the disgraced former journalist who made up all or part of more than 40 articles, doesn’t look like he has much future as a lawyer, if the California Supreme Court hearing Wednesday is any indication.
Glass can’t get work as a journalist any longer so he went to law school and wants to get a license to practice in California, but the question is whether he has sufficiently redeemed himself and whether his past ethical lapses should keep him out of the bar.
All seven justices pummeled Glass’s lawyer, Jon Eisenberg, with questions about what Glass has done to make amends or show he has changed, even raising the example of the post-Watergate lives of the lawyers disbarred and imprisoned for their roles in that scandal.
“Look at the lawyers in Watergate,” said Justice Marvin Baxter. “From that time on they devoted their lives to ministry and public good. In their case they were covering up the activities of others,” he said, contrasting Glass’s self-serving cover-up of his own frauds.
Eisenberg responded that they had committed crimes. “Criminal acts are en entirely different realm. Steven Glass did not commit a crime,” he said.
Glass ruined a star career as a journalist while writing for The New Republic, Harper’s and Rolling Stone between 1996 and 1998, by perpetrating world class journalistic frauds. He made up parts or all of at least 40 articles. He even used his brother as a fake source to deceive editors and created a phony web site to bolster his claims.
Glass finished law school and passed the bar exam in 2007 but was denied admission to the bar over concern about his moral character. He challenged that denial in an appeal heard in Sacramento Wednesday.
Rather than questioning the state Bar prosecutor Rachel Grunberg, who argued against admitting Glass to practice law, the justices spent time recounting the litany of his misdeeds.
In one account he reported African-Americans were unwilling to take menial jobs and used fake sources, and in another he said young conservative Republicans were giving up politics and turning to sex and drugs, said Justice Joyce Kennard.
“After being confronted, Glass covered up with fabrications in a phony website,” Kennard said. In a rhetorical softball, Kennard asked Grunberg, “Is there any harm for the court making up things in its opinions?”
Justice Ming Chin pointed out Glass tried to win admission to the New York bar and was rebuffed. And he even mischaracterized his record in the New York application, Chin said.
Eisenberg tried to recover saying, “No doubt he did terrible things from 1996 to 1998. But in the 15 years since then he has rehabilitated himself.” [Glass has worked as a clerk in a plaintiffs law firm in Beverly Hills.] “He has worked hard and worked well as a law clerk,” he said.
“He worked well with the New Republic too,” snapped Justice Carol Corrigan. “We take you and your colleagues at their word when you tell us something. That is a big speed bump he has to overcome,” she told Eisenberg.
Both Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Kathryn Werdegar wanted to know what Glass has done to give back to the community or redeem himself with the people he wronged in the stories.
Eisenberg was hard pressed. “He has redeemed himself,” he said. “He learned very bitterly the price of being a liar.” And he suggested Glass did pro bono work.
“Was he paid for it?” Corrigan asked.
“Has he paid money back to anyone he damaged?” asked Justice Richard Mosk, sitting in for Justice Liu, who was not participating. Or has he made any non-monetary recompense, came a barrage redemption questions.
At the end of the hour it was pretty clear Mr. Glass better look into yet another line of work.
Case: In re Stephen Glass, No. S196374