Ethics Quote of The Week: The California Supreme Court


“Glass and the witnesses who supported his application stress his talent in the law and his commitment to the profession, and they argue that he has already paid a high enough price for his misdeeds to warrant admission to the bar. They emphasize his personal redemption, but we must recall that what is at stake is not compassion for Glass, who wishes to advance from being a supervised law clerk to enjoying a license to engage in the practice of law on an independent basis. Given our duty to protect the public and maintain the integrity and high standards of the profession (see Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1105), our focus is on the applicant‟s moral fitness to practice law. On this record, the applicant failed to carry his heavy burden of establishing his rehabilitation and current fitness.”

—–The California Supreme Court, finally rejecting the application of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass for admission the the California Bar, on the grounds of trustworthiness and poor character.

This should end Glass’s efforts to enter the new profession of law after spectacularly destroying his reputation in his former one, that of star journalist for The New Republic. After he was found to have fabricated more than 40 pieces for the magazine and gone to elaborate efforts to deceive fact-checkers. Stephen Glass  (Whom I first wrote about here) was fired in 1998. Luckily for him, he was already a student at Georgetown Law Center at the time, attending its night school, as he almost certainly would not have been admitted after his public exposure as a serial liar. Glass graduated, and beginning in 2002 commenced on this long,  difficult and ultimately unsuccessful journey to professional redemption, taking and passing multiple bar exams and being rejected, first by New York and now by California.

Upon reflection, Glass may well conclude that lying to the New York Board of Bar Examiners was an especially bad idea.

The California opinion is fascinating (you should read the whole thing here), as well as occasionally jaw-dropping. It is hard to have much sympathy for Glass, or to question the wisdom of the court, which noted near that end,

“Glass‟s conduct as a journalist exhibited moral turpitude sustained over an extended period. As the Review Department dissent emphasized, he engaged in “fraud of staggering‟ proportions” and he “use[d] . . . his exceptional writing skills to publicly and falsely malign people and organizations for actions they did not do and faults they did not have.” As the dissent further commented, for two years he “engaged in a multi-layered, complex, and harmful course of public dishonesty.”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. (See Hall v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1979) 25 Cal.3d 730, 742 [applications may be rejected in cases of “numerous fraudulent acts” and “false statements”].) 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.”

So California has, in the span of less than a month, determined that dishonest journalists are not fit to practice law in the state, but that illegal aliens are.

17 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of The Week: The California Supreme Court

        • In Virginia you could do just that, you could apprentice with a lawyer and challenge the bar exam. I don’t know if you can still do that no but 20 years ago it was still possible.

      • Just out of curiosity, what would your stance be on “illegal aliens” who were brought here by their parents well before the age of consent (say before they were 10)?
        In other words, they themselves did not (knowingly) commit the illegal act. To a certain extent I’m thinking of some of the schooling issues that have recently been debated.

        It seems to me than on the level of the individual, denying someone who is effectively American in terms of culture the chance to emulate theirs peers because of their parents illegal acts is rather cruel. (At the level of practicality and statehood there may be different rules … but I am talking about the ethics at an individual level).
        I certainly don’t have an answer – I can see it either way.

        • I’ll tell you my take on it, which I think (though am not certain) that our host shares…

          If they have reached the age of majority (and beyond) and make no attempt to normalize their status, then they should bugger off and come here legally. I fully understand someone here illegally as a small child (on through high school) making no effort, but the second you are a legal adult and especially if you attend classes at a college (and most fucking definitely if you attend fucking law school) you should have made some effort.

          Failing such effort, kick them out.

            • I did not know that he had left the country and re-entered illegally, To me that completely changes it. I can understand if he had stayed , even going through law school , and waited until he had finished law school to do something about it but once he left that’s it. sorry.

          • That sounds entirely reasonable (particularly with respect to attending law school, as you point out) … assuming that the effort required is fairly reasonable (which I assume it is), and there is a reasonable risk factor involved.
            I know nothing about the process – is it also possible to do without incriminating, or jeopardizing your parents? Since from an ethical point of view doing something that would see your parents deported is a pretty tricky choice to make.
            Even then – if you want to become a lawyer, as you point out, by necessity you should have made every effort to normalize your status. (Although that brings up the ethics of deprivation again).

  1. Rotten people do reform, whether Glass himself really did. Should they get second chances from the bar? Or is it too risky to the public, given that there’s no reliable way to measure whether someone’s really turned themselves around?

  2. Sociopaths are not capable of reforming, because they can’t recognize what they do as “wrong.” At the risk of internet diagnosing, based on what I have read of him, Glass strikes me as a classical sociopath. The fact that he had to have a psychiatrist help him understand what he did wrong is telling. He should never be a lawyer or any other profession in which he can detrimentally impact other people.

    Incidentally, Scott Greenfield wrote of this today as well; he came to much the same conclusion as you.

    • based on what I have read of him, Glass strikes me as a classical sociopath. The fact that he had to have a psychiatrist help him understand what he did wrong is telling. He should never be a lawyer or any other profession in which he can detrimentally impact other people.
      Guess what?
      That is exactly what I was thinking.

  3. The fact that Glass committed slander, libel and other dishonesties over a long period of time- and thus proving himself without any scruples other than that of not being caught- and now seeks to enter a profession where ethics should be a prime consideration of fitness (officer of the court!), this would seem to render him UNfit until he, in some demonstrable way, proves that he has changed. Has he now? What evidence is there that he has? The fact that other attorneys are demonstrably as bad or worse in terms of ethics does not excuse him. The Bar has been lowered enough as it is. (Pun intended.) For the sake of credibility, though, a lot of other lawyers or would be ones need to join him in the unemployment line.

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