Stephen Glass will not be a lawyer. So sayeth the California Supreme Court in a 35-page unanimous, unsigned opinion published this week.
Glass is the disgraced journalist who fabricated all or parts of nearly every article he wrote during a 30-month period as a writer for The New Republic and other magazines. When he was found out in 1998, he lied some more. He was fired, went to law school, and in 2006 passed the California bar and has been awaiting admission for 7 years.
I knew Steve Glass in happier times. Glass and I worked together at The Daily Pennsylvanian, the independent student newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, where I got my undergraduate degree. I covered several rape cases and abductions where I scooped the professional reporters at the Inquirer. Glass and I both started as beat reporters at the DP in the fall of 1990, and we shared a by-line during our freshman year when we covered an impromptu anti-war rally protesting the first Gulf War.
Later he was elected executive editor, on the strength of his ingratiating ways and his reporting, some of which was probably fabricated as well. I was campus editor. The DP was a special place. Privately owned by a corporation managed by students, it routinely ranked among the top three student newspapers in the country. We would occasionally beat Philadelphia’s main newspaper, the Inquirer, to the punch. As the DP‘s crime reporter for a semester, I sometimes scooped the professional reporters at the Inquirer. I would put in 30 hours a week, all unpaid, at the paper; Steve was there even more frequently.
Steve and I were never close. He was a pleaser, though, particularly in a platonic way with female colleagues in the office, who would rally to his cause. Hayden Christiansen did a great job of depicting the way in which Steve would ingratiate himself to colleagues. “Are you mad at me?” was a regular refrain when people questioned him even about the most innocuous topic. I do believe that his fabrications started well before his time at TNR, and began at our beloved student newspaper. This article by Steve Glass is just the sort of new journalism nonsense whose facts can never be independently verified that established that Glass could come up with just the right scene, facts, and quotes to create a compelling piece for print.
I also recall United Way complaining about the way Steve quoted key personnel in a series of articles Glass wrote about what he claimed were improper fundraising tactics by the organization. Those complaints were dismissed
Glass later received an advance of $175,000 for a novel he wrote about the matter called The Fabulist. He appeared on 60 Minutes to hawk the book, which ultimately was remaindered having apparently not made back the advance for the publisher.
Can Sociopaths be Lawyers?
Glass’ psychiatrists now say he’s not a sociopath. I’m not quite so sure. While Steve is very bright and was good at cultivating friendships, mostly by flattering and fawning over people, I think he ultimately has a very difficult time imagining in a deep way the inner lives of other people and, therefore, empathizing with them. As I understand it, these pathologies can never be truly cured, although sociopaths can be taught to channel their conduct into more fruitful and less destructive avenues.
Watch the following little snippet from an interview Steve gave on CNN in 2003 where he explains that the reason why he wrote a novel, as opposed to a factual account of his transgressions, is that he had difficulty accessing the inner lives of people he dealt with.
After being found out as a crook at The New Republic in 1998, and tossed out of journalism at the age of 25, Glass decided it would be a fine way to make a living as an attorney. He finished his law degree at Georgetown University. He moved to New York and applied to be admitted to the bar the state of New York. But he eventually withdrew his New York bar application when he discovered that he would be unable to practice law there due to concerns that he was unfit as a matter of his character to be admitted to the bar.
The Moral Fitness Test
So it was off to the state of California. In 2006, Glass sat for and passed the California State Bar. But for the past 8 years he has been stymied by the Bar’s Character and Fitness requirement. Each state has such a requirement that, in addition to showing competence by passing an examination, the applicant show that he is morally fit to practice law.
There are lots of reasons to think these requirements are worthless at best, and distracting at worst. But if we’re going to have a bar and if it’s going to have a moral fitness element, then Steve Glass should not be a lawyer, whatever Slate’s David Plotz says.
Sociopaths are all around us. Indeed, sociopaths are often fine lawyers. So the fact that Steve Glass may be a sociopath would not, by itself, disqualify him from being licensed to practice law.
But where a person’s conduct is to first lie for years about the core issues involved in one’s work, and then, once caught, to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions, that person probably should not be a lawyer.
Hiring a Better Advocate
It also should be said that the Steve’s lawyer who argued before the California State Supreme Court did an awful job.