In 1995, aspiring law student Stephen Glass began his journalism career with a position at The New Republic Magazine. Shortly after, he began fabricating stories. In 1997, he began attending Georgetown University Law Center as an evening student.
His made-up stories told tales of conservative Republicans, minorities and other political figures engaging in racist, humiliating and illegal acts. It was not until over a year into Glass’ legal studies at Georgetown that The New Republic editor began to suspect some of his stories to be untrue.
By Glass’ own admission, almost all of the 42 articles he published for The New Republic between June 1996 and May 1998 contained false quotes or completely fabricated stories altogether. To make his stories look legitimate, Glass would prepare detailed reporter’s notes and supporting materials so that the magazine’s fact checkers and editors felt that he did all of the necessary background work.
After his conduct were exposed, Glass spent the next few years trying to fix his reputation, taking responsibility for his wrongful actions, seeking psychiatric help, apologizing to those affected by his lies, and volunteering in the New York community by providing pro bono legal services.
As his legal studies at Georgetown came to an end in 2002, Glass applied to be a member of the New York State Bar. Because of his questionable background, he needed to provide a full explanation of his moral character by describing every fabrication he made as a journalist. His application was rejected.
The review committee felt that he exaggerated how much he cooperated with the journals that had published his work during the investigation process. He also failed to supply the New York bar with a full and accurate list of his falsified articles during his time with The New Republic.
Glass moved to California and passed the bar exam in 2006. Again, he was required to file an application for determination of moral character. At the moral character proceedings for the California State Bar in 2007, Glass reviewed all of his fabrications while practicing journalism. He admitted to all of his falsified stories and even shed some light on lies he made that were unknown prior to the hearing. However, he failed to acknowledge his New York bar application.
By not being completely straightforward about his rejection from the New York State Bar, the California State Bar felt that Glass was not fit to practice law. Along with his indiscretions as a journalist, his inability to be honest about his background showed the review committee that his character had not been rehabilitated.
What Stephen Glass’s Story Means for Aspiring Attorneys
The State Bar finds honesty to be absolutely fundamental to the practice of law because lawyers have a responsibility to “stand as a ‘shield’ in defense of right and to ward off wrong” (Justice Kennard’s opinion in Kwasnik, supra, 50 Cal.3d 1061). But just “being known” as a liar may not be the end-all-be-all in entering the state bar.
It is important to show during applications of moral character for the state bar that you have been rehabilitated and have made sincere efforts to improve your character. Even though Stephen Glass showed remorse by seeking help and apologizing, the California State Bar felt that his actions leading up to his application in 2007 were still deceitful and lacking in integrity.
Glass also felt that by providing pro bono legal work to the community, he was showing an improvement in his character. The California State Bar review committee stressed that pro bono work is expected of attorneys and is not considered “exemplary.”
What Wallin & Klarich Thinks
Glass’ inability to be honest continued beyond his journalism career. The committee felt that during the investigation of his publications for The New Republic, Glass was not cooperating with his employers or clarifying the record to the best of his ability. He then showed a lack of integrity by exaggerating his cooperation with his employers to the New York State Bar. To make matters worse, in his application of moral character for the California State Bar, he failed to reveal the full truth regarding his rejection from the New York State Bar.
The decision of the California State Bar’s review committee to reject Stephen Glass’s entry was likely the correct one. Glass continued to show dishonesty beyond his journalism career and this was enough to illustrate that he had not been rehabilitated.
What do you think about the decision to prevent Glass from becoming a lawyer? Should a person who has admitted to being unethical in the past be allowed to practice law? We welcome your thoughts on this controversial issue.