Monday, November 21, 2011
S.C. Will Decide if ‘Fabulist’ Stephen Glass Is Morally Fit for Law Practice
Grants Review in Admissions Case for First Time in 11 Years
By ROGER M. GRACE, Editor
The California Supreme Court has voted 6-0 to decide whether Stephen R. Glass, who fabricated facts and quotes in numerous magazine articles in the 1990s, is presently fit to practice law.
A notation on the website of the Administrative Office of the Courts says:
“This case presents the following issue: Considering the applicant’s extensive misconduct, is there sufficient evidence of rehabilitation to support the State Bar Court recommendation that he be admitted to the practice of law?”
Justice Goodwin Liu did not take part in the vote, having recused himself.
The State Bar Board of Bar Examiners, which sought the review, is contending that Glass, a law clerk since 2004 at the Beverly Hills firm of Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, lacks the moral character to be a lawyer.
The board is represented by Rachel S. Grunberg of the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel. Grunberg noted Friday that when review is sought in admissions cases, the petition generally comes from an admission-seeker, “not from our side.”
The granting of review in an admissions case is rare, she remarked, noting:
“It’s been 11 years since they’ve taken one of these cases up.”
The lawyer commented that the high court’s action was “warranted.”
The case is one which the Board of Bar Examiners “felt strongly on,” she related.
Los Angeles attorneys Arthur and Susan Margolis, who specialize in State Bar disciplinary and admissions cases, represent Glass, along with Palo Alto attorney Michael A. Willemsen. Arthur Margolis and Willemsen declined comment Friday and Glass did not return a phone call.
All proceedings in Glass’s case had been confidential up until last Wednesday’s vote to grant review.
Glass made national headlines following the revelation in 1998 by The New Republic that Glass, then 25, had admitted manufacturing quotes and facts over a two-year period, with some articles being entirely fictitious.
A movie, “Shattered Glass,” was released in 2003, depicting his serial lying, and that same year, his semi-autobiographical novel, “The Fabulist,” was published. The ex-journalist recounted his misdeeds on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Glass graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, magna cum laude, in 2000. He withdrew an application for admission to the State Bar of New York in 2004 after being informally advised that he would not be certified as morally fit.
He came to California that year, and passed the bar exam here in 2007, the roadblock to admission being his failure to pass the Committee on Bar Examiners’ moral fitness review.
A State Bar Court judge, after hearing testimony, concluded that Glass had reformed. The committee took the matter to the Review Department.
The Margolises asserted in a March 17 responsive brief:
“The Committee’s request for review is based on nothing more than its differing opinion as to the credibility of Applicant, unwarranted inferences regarding his witnesses’ motives and credibility, a distorted reading of the record, and, in some instances, the Committee’s simply ignoring evidence and testimony in the record that does not conform with its predetermined opposition to Applicant’s admission. Further, to support its opposition, the Committee repeatedly invents artificial standards of conduct, arbitrarily attributes crucial importance to its own contrived criteria, and then asserts, often based on its ignoring vital portions of the evidence, that Mr. Glass has failed to meet those contrived standards.”
‘Reform and Rehabilitation’
State Bar Court Judge Judith Epstein, writing for a 2-1 majority, said in a “confidential” July 13 opinion that the committee “clearly satisfied its burden of rebutting Glass’s prima facie case of good moral character,” but that Glass had surmounted that with “overwhelming evidence” of his “reform and rehabilitation.”
Dissenting, Judge Catherine D. Purcell did not find Glass’s evidence convincing, and warned:
“[I]f Glass were to fabricate evidence in legal matters as readily and effectively as he falsified material for magazine articles, the harm to the public and the profession would be immeasurable.”
In her majority opinion, Epstein retorted:
“The Dissent is of the view that Glass has not shown proof of reform by a sufficiently lengthy period of exemplary conduct. The Committee takes an even stronger position, arguing that Glass’s reputation for honesty is virtually beyond repair. This view is antithetical to the policy of this state, which favors admission of applicants who have achieved reformation....It is for this reason that we resolve all reasonable doubts about Glass’s rehabilitation in his favor..., and give him the benefit of any conflicting but equally reasonable inferences flowing from the evidence.”
While differing as to whether Glass had established a moral transformation, the judges were agreed as to the reprehensibility of the applicant’s conduct as a journalist. Epstein wrote:
“Glass’s misconduct clearly showed a “disregard of the fundamental rule of ethics—that of common honesty....In constructing his tangled web, Glass exploited his colleagues’ trust and he caused immeasurable reputational harm to the subjects of his articles and to the magazines that vouched for his veracity. The magazines also were burdened with re-checking the accuracy of all of his articles to defend against potential libel claims, and at least one magazine actually was required to defend itself in defamation lawsuits.”
“He used his exceptional writing skills to publicly and falsely malign people and organizations for actions they did not do and for faults they did not have. He even created fake newsletters, voicemail boxes and a website to support his fabricated articles. For two years, Glass engaged in a multi-layered, complex and harmful course of public dishonesty.”
The Committee on Bar Examiners filed its petition for review by the Supreme Court on Sept. 12.
Bar’s Reply Brief
In a Sept. 27 answer to the petition, the Margolises argued:
“Mr. Glass’s misconduct concluded in 1998, when he was 25 years old. He is now 39. The ‘overwhelming’ evidence testifies to his maturation, reformation, and rehabilitation over the past 13 years.
“The Committee presented no testimony at all re ruling the 22 judges, attorneys, law professors, colleagues, friends, and life partner of over 10 years who testified to the profound change in Mr. Glass. On this record, the Hearing and Review Departments were right to recommend his admission. Indeed, they found it not a close call, but rather a decision ‘overwhelmingly’ supported by the evidence of ‘outstanding’ witnesses.”
In an Oct. 3 reply to the answer, Grunberg wrote:
“According to Applicant...the Committee is loath to focus on his present situation and instead has been carried away by the distant tide of his past misconduct....
“Applicant understates the Committee’s position—this was much more than a rogue wave that washed ashore; in Applicant’s own words, this was a ‘tsunami.’ ... Applicant has failed to address the damage and destruction he has caused in one profession. He essentially abandoned his victims—the subjects of his libelous articles, the prominent news publications he worked for, and the entire journalistic community—and left them to deal with the wreckage on their own. He now seeks to become a member of the honorable and learned legal profession in California.”
The brief continued:
“Throughout Applicant’s Answering Brief, he attempts to explain away the deficiencies in his behavior over the last 13 years—his failure to timely issue apologies; his 11-year delay in creating a comprehensive list of all of his fabricated articles, which resulted in some of the publications not being able to ever issue full and complete retractions; and his misrepresentation to the New York Bar. In each instance, he has an excuse for why his acts were incomplete, misunderstood, or ill-timed.”
Grunberg disputed the Margolises’ reference to misconduct having been 13 years in the past. She wrote:
“[T]he Committee contends that the operative rehabilitation period is measured from the date of the last act of misconduct to when Applicant sought a moral character determination from the Committee.... Applicant’s last bad act occurred in 2003 when he made a misrepresentation to the New York Bar. Using this calculation, Applicant would only have approximately 3 years of reform before filing his moral character application in California in 2007.”
Action Termed ‘Significant’
Michael Marcus, a former State Bar Court judge, now in private dispute resolution, commented Friday that the granting of review in the case is “significant.”
“Since the Bar Court was established in 1989, it’s very unusual for the Supreme Court to look at any case coming out of the Review Department.”
Marcus, a former State Bar governor, observed that the case will afford the high court an “opportunity to look at the process under which people either should be or shouldn’t be allowed to practice law in the State of California.”
The case is Glass on Admission, S196374.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company