Legal Ethics

Top Calif. court nixes Stephen Glass bar application over the ex-journalist's deceit years ago

Presenting fiction as fact in long-ago magazine articles cost former journalist Stephen Glass a California law license on Monday, as the state’s top court held that his bar application should be rejected on character and fitness grounds.

“Glass’s journalistic dishonesty was not a single lapse of judgment, which we have sometimes excused, but involved significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years,” the court said in its written opinion (PDF). “Glass’s deceit also was motivated by professional ambition, betrayed a vicious, mean spirit and a complete lack of compassion for others, along with arrogance and prejudice against various ethnic groups. In all these respects, his misconduct bore directly on his character in matters that are critical to the practice of law.”

Fired from the New Republic after his journalistic deception was discovered more than 15 years ago, Glass earned a law degree from Georgetown University (where he was already a night law student while still a journalist), tried unsuccessfully to gain admission to the New York bar and then moved to California where he has been seeking for the better part of a decade to become a lawyer. As portrayed in the movie Shattered Glass, he fictionalized all or part of dozens of purported nonfiction articles for the New Republic and other well-regarded publications.

Calling Glass an “infamous as a dishonest journalist,” the supreme court noted in its opinion that he had also fabricated material to support his articles during the New Republic’s fact-checking process and said that fictionalized portions of his articles “reflected negatively on individuals, political groups, and ethnic minorities.” Additionally, Glass “made every effort to avoid detection once suspicions were aroused, lobbied strenuously to keep his job at the New Republic, and, in the aftermath of his exposure, did not fully cooperate with the publications to identify his fabrications.”

The failed bar application is the second for Glass, who withdrew his New York bar application in 2004 after it became clear he would be rejected there, too, on character and fitness grounds, according to the Washington Post’s Reliable Source blog.

Employed as a paralegal at a Los Angeles law firm since then, Glass is supported by the firm, former editors and law professors in his quest to become a licensed attorney. However, the state supreme court said the 41-year-old has failed to “establish that he engaged in truly exemplary conduct over an extended period,” and hence found that Glass “has not sustained his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation and fitness for the practice of law,” the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) reports.

See also: “Disgraced Journalist Stephen Glass Elicits Criticism and Support in His Quest for a Law License “Disgraced as journalist, Stephen Glass faces skeptical Calif. supreme court in law-license bid”

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