Ethics Dunce: Slate Editor David Plotz

SlateDavid Plotz, journalist and editor of the on-line culture magazine Slate, takes on the California Supreme Court in an essay in his magazine, harshly criticizing the 7-0 decision yesterday to deny Stephen Glass the opportunity to practice law in the state. Glass has been attempting for almost 20 year to persuade some state that a star journalist who was exposed as a pathological liar is a trustworthy lawyer. Plotz’s attack on the opinion as smug and self-righteous says a lot more about Plotz and his field of journalism than it does about the court. It  exposes the perils of a non-lawyer delving into legal ethics without even a modicum of research. Mostly, the exercise shows how far journalism has fallen, when the editor of a prestigious on-line journalistic enterprise essentially denies the importance of professionalism. “It’s a job,” he concludes about the law, trying to bring lawyers down to the depths of his own, thoroughly debased line of work.

Not that the decision isn’t ripe for criticism, for it is. In particular, the majority reasoning continues the legal field’s strange hypocrisy of applying a far more stringent standard to the character of those trying to get their licenses that it does to those who have proven themselves unworthy of holding them. The District of Columbia, supposedly one of the toughest jurisdiction regarding legal discipline, recently administered a mild reprimand to a Justice Department attorney who had been practicing on a suspended license for more than two decades. John Edwards, whose trail of lies while deceiving his dying wife and devising schemes to hide his pregnant mistress in order to gull the Democratic party into nominating him for President, has managed to avoid any discipline at all despite the fact that his continuing leave to practice law disgraces every lawyer on the planet. And, of course, the very same court Plotz derides now recently delivered the stunning conclusion that a non-citizen who entered the country illegally and engaged in years of lies to remain here is nonetheless fit to be a lawyer. (Naturally, Plotz liked that decision.) None of these are mentioned in the post. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Why Is A Lying Journalist Not Fit To Practice Law, When A Lying Presidential Candidate Is?

Question: Which two men are fit to practice law? (It's a trick question...)

Question: Which two men are fit to practice law? (It’s a trick question…)

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog muses on an issue that has troubled me for a long time: the fact that the legal profession allows people to keep practicing law whose conduct would have kept them out of the profession had it occurred before they were lawyers.

The reason for the current examination is the apparent inconsistency of disgraced New Republic journalist Stephen Glass continuing to fight and uphill battle (and, I think, doomed) to be admitted to the California bar, while lying scum-of-the-earth John Edwards still has his law license and is opening up a new practice in North Carolina. I wrote about Glass here, and Edwards here.

In the Journal piece, estimable legal ethicist Stephen Gillers opines that the different standards applied to Glass and Edwards are paradoxical,  with the law grads entering the profession being held to more stringent ethical standards  than a veteran attorneys. “If anything, you might say it should be the opposite,” he says.

Especially if the veteran lawyer is a high-profile, national figure who makes every other lawyer want to crawl under a rock… Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Robert Downey, Jr.

Superhero on the outside, Ethics Hero on the inside.

Show business Ethics Heroes are about as rare as credible presidential candidates; after all, Hollywood is one of two environments where the ethical culture is even more warped and cynical than Washington, D.C. (The other: the Columbia drug cartels.) Yet a genuine Ethics Hero emerged at the 25th annual American Cinematheque Award gala, when honoree Robert Downey, Jr., now a major star and industry power player, threw his prestige and influence behind a genuine industry pariah, Mel Gibson, in an act of kindness, gratitude, and reciprocity.

After Downey accepted his award before a cheering crowd of important performers and artists, he unexpectedly devoted his moment in the spotlight to recall how Mel Gibson, when Downey’s career had been devastated by habitual substance abuse and Gibson was a megastar, constantly supported him, encouraged him and refused to give up on him, though the Hollywood community had. The “Iron Man” star explained how Gibson, in 2003, gave Downey a starring role in “The Singing Detective,”  which had been developed for Gibson himself, because nobody else would give the troubled actor another chance.  Gibson even paid the insurance premiums for Downey, because the studio would not accept the risk of hiring him, given his history of drug addiction and legal problems. All  Mel asked in return, Downey recalled, was that Downey resolve to help out the next actor who had hit bottom and had no friends in the Town Without Pity. Continue reading

Can a Lying Journalist Be a Trustworthy Lawyer?

Stephen Glass: Would you trust this man?

When New Republic Editor Charles Lane fired Stephen Glass, the infamous journalist for that and other magazines who in 1998 was exposed as having fabricated many articles he had represented as true, he was quoted as saying,  “Glass is a man without honor who operated out of hostility and contempt; he has no place in journalism.”

Now the question is whether such man now has a place in the law.

A petition for review has been filed by the California Commission of Bar Examiners contesting the  State Bar Court’s finding that Glass is now morally fit to practice law. He passed the California bar exam in 2007, but the committee blocked his admission, finding that his previous record of professional dishonesty, though in another profession, showed such a deficiency of character that it disqualified him from legal practice as unfit. Then a hearing judge over-ruled the Commission, and found that Glass had reformed sufficiently to render trustworthy. The opinion was upheld 2-1 by the State Bar Court. Continue reading

The Incredible Self-Disproving Rationalization!

A Chicago scene website is highlighting businesses serving citizens of the Windy City that market lies.  It focuses on three of the breed. The first, The Alibi Network, was one of my Unethical Websites of the Month years ago. For a fee, it will concoct and document elaborate support for excuses, fake illnesses, adulterous getaways masquerading as business trips. It’s the kind of enterprise George Costanza might have started; if you have a strong stomach, you can read about it here.  The second is “Rent-a-Date,” which is less objectionable than it is sad, an escort service with no sex, for guys who can’t get a date and want to impress employers, old classmates and other shallow people by hiring one and pretending that the relationship is real. You know, George would have used this one, too.

The third of these slimy businesses, however, is truly awful, an outfit called “The Reference Store”
The business creates phony former employers, complete with websites and local phone numbers, for job seekers worldwide. (You know, George could have used this service to give credibility to his favorite fake reference, “Vandelay Industries”! It’s a George Costanza Tri-fecta!) Continue reading