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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Stephen Glass: Discredited Journalist to Ethical Lawyer?

     Stephen Glass, whose father is a physician and his mother a nurse, grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Chicago's North Shore. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Washington, D.C. In 1995, Glass joined the staff of "The New Republic," a hip magazine read by influential political insiders referred to by some as the onboard magazine of Air Force One.

     Ambitious, talented, and eager to please his editor and colleagues, Stephen, in 1996, began dolling up his pieces by fudging quotes and doctoring anecdotes. He continued to fictionalize his nonfiction work through 1997. Early in 1998, Glass submitted stories that were completely made up, accompaning these pieces with phony footnotes, fake email correspondence, and manufactured interview notes.

     Stephen's editor, Charles Lane, became suspicious when he couldn't cooberate the young journalist's sources in several of his submissions. This caused an internal review which led to Stephen's termination in May 1998. (The scandal is the subject of a TV docudrama called "Shattered Glass.") During his tenure at "The New Republic," Glass fabricated thirty-six articles, about half of his journalistic output. (As a free-lancer, he had also fabricated stories for three other publications.)

     After being thrown out of journalism, Glass became a law student at Georgetown University. After acquiring his degree, he moved to New York where he passed the bar exam. After a short stay in New York, Glass took up residence in Los Angeles. Although he passed the California bar exam, because of his history as a journalist, he did not apply to become a licensed attorney. Instead, he took a job as a para-legal at a Beverly Hills law firm.

     In 2003, Glass published an autobiographical novel called "The Fabulist" in which he glossed over the extent of his journalistic fraud. Reviewers were unkind, and the public uninterested. Glass had lost his credibility as a journalist and as a novelist. Moreover, a lot of people were put off by his attempt to capitalize on his journalistic crimes.

     Glass, in 2005, applied for admission to the California Bar. The bar committee, finding him morally unfit to become a lawyer, denied him membership. He appealed the decision to the state bar court which, in 2010, found in his favor. The state responded by appealing the bar court's decision to the California Supreme Court.

     On January 26, 2014, the California Supreme Court denied Glass his license to practice law. In its ruling, the justices noted that "Glass' journalistic dishonesty was not a single lapse of judgement but involved significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years." Moreover, according to the high court, Glass' journalistic lying took place "while he was pursuing a law degree and license to practice law, when the importance of honesty should have gained new meaning for him."

     While no one would dispute the fact there are rotten apples in the legal profession barrel, at least this rotten apple won't be joining them. 


  1. Glass went to some pretty amazing lengths to keep his story/lie going, so I'm not really upset to see him have to go through the wringer to practice, even if he will eventually be permitted to do so.
    I wouldn't be very comfortable with the idea of Jason Blair setting up a law practice in West Virginia either!

  2. He should become a novelist. It would give him a constructive outlet for his clearly overactive imagination. And, if you've read any of his material, there's no denying that he's a pretty good writer, and can spin a great yarn.

    I don't think he should be admitted to practice law, however. If he can't stop himself from lying to a court or to a client, he could hurt a lot of innocent people.

    If he writes a lousy novel, on the other hand, nobody really gets hurt.