Yes, Stephen Glass Should Be Allowed to Practice Law
Please forgive the fact that this post has nothing to do with international law, but it’s something very personal and very important to me. As Jonathan Adler noted today at Volokh Conspiracy, the California Supreme Court will soon decide whether Stephen Glass, the former New Republic journalist who was caught inventing stories, should be permitted to practice law:
Glass was fired by The New Republic and was generally shunned by the journalism world. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. But the New York State Bar blocked his attempt to practice law in that state, citing his ethical lapses, said Rachel Grunberg, an attorney with the California State Bar’s Office of General Counsel.
Glass moved to California and passed the bar exam here. But in 2009 the Committee of Bar Examiners declined to certify his moral fitness, noting, like New York, his history of lies. Glass then petitioned the State Bar Court’s hearing department, which disagreed with the committee and found the would-be lawyer had the necessary “good moral character.” The hearing officer declared Glass’ 22 supporting witnesses to be “outstanding” and credible.
The committee took the case to the three-judge review department, which in July, on a 2-1 vote, found that Glass had indeed rehabilitated his moral shortcomings and should be certified for admission to the Bar. Now the Committee of Bar Examiners has successfully asked the state Supreme Court to step in.
“In light of the serious misconduct that occurred, albeit a decade ago, [Glass] did not show in the commission’s eyes significant rehabilitation,” Grunberg said. “He just hasn’t shown that he holds those values that we hold dear.”
I have not seen Stephen in a while, but he and I were close friends for a number of years. Knowing him as I do, I can only conclude that the Committee of Bar Examiners made up their mind to deny him a license long before they ever looked at the testimonials submitted on his behalf (I was not among the 22) — the testimonials that convinced the hearing department. It is impossible to spend any amount of time with Stephen and not be convinced — completely and utterly convinced — that he deserves the opportunity to practice law. I was very skeptical of Stephen when I first met him, but that didn’t last long. I quickly realized that, in addition to being brilliant and witty and kind and supportive, Stephen was one of the most thoughtful, introspective, and self-aware people that I had ever met. In the three or so years that he and I were friends, I never once heard him blame anyone but himself for his fall from grace. I never once heard him make an excuse for what happened — and if you suggested to him that he was young and stupid and simply got in over his head, he would immediately disagree with you. I never once heard him downplay the significance of his wrongdoing. I never heard him say that Shattered Glass got his story wrong, as painful as it must have been for him to see his darkest moments splashed across the silver screen. I never once heard him complain about working as a paralegal for iffy law firms with lawyers who couldn’t hold a candle to him, intellectually or legally. And I never once heard him insist that he was rehabilitated and should be forgiven for his sins — to me, the most compelling indication that he was, in fact, rehabilitated.
American law practice is full of unethical lawyers. Stephen Glass will not be one of them. He does not deserve to have the rest of his life ruined for the terrible mistakes he made more than a decade ago.