That question—first posed in 2002 when Glass applied for admittance to the New York State Bar Association—moved to California in 2007, when Glass applied to join its bar. Glass’s California application has now traveled to the top of the legal food chain, where the state Supreme Court agreed in November to hear arguments on Glass’s moral fitness to become a member of the State Bar of California.
If Stephen Glass were an ordinary applicant, the California Committee of Bar Examiners would have readily approved the graduate of Georgetown University law school (magna cum laude, 2000) after he passed the California bar exam and applied for admittance. But Glass was an exceptional case: He gained worldwide notoriety in 1998 after dozens of stories he wrote while working as a Washington journalist in the mid-to-late 1990s were discovered to be fabricated. These pieces described incidents that never took place and attributed quotations to made-up people. Most of these tainted stories appeared in The New Republic, where he worked, but others were published in Policy Review, Harper’s, George, and Rolling Stone. (According to court documents, Glass settled a lawsuit filed against him by D.A.R.E., the subject of his Rolling Stone piece, for $25,000.) The scam ended in May 1998 after reporting and inquires from Forbes Digital Tool editor Adam L. Penenberg tipped the New Republic off about the fishiness of Glass’s piece about “Jukt Micronics,” and all of his journalistic work was scrutinized for lies.
The legal argument under debate in California isn’t whether Glass made stuff up willy-nilly in his journalism. That verdict was delivered long ago; you can read the eye-popping details in Buzz Bissinger’s September 1998 Vanity Fair feature. The question before the California Supreme Court is the 39-year-old Glass’s current moral state, and whether he has sufficiently rehabilitated himself to practice law today.
Glass ‘s legal struggle to join the bar goes back almost a decade. According to court filings, Glass passed the New York Bar Examination in 2000 and applied for admission to the bar in July 2002. But he withdrew his application on Sept. 22, 2004 after the bar notified him he would not likely be approved on moral character grounds. He moved to California that fall and passed its bar exam in 2007, but the Committee of Bar Examiners rejected Glass on moral character grounds in 2009. The committee holds that Glass has not rehabilitated himself, waiting more than 11 years to fully list and identify all of the fabrications in his journalism.
Glass appealed the decision to the State Bar Court of California hearing department, where Judge Richard A. Honn overturned the committee decision on Aug. 19, 2010, in Glass’s favor. The committee, still not wanting a confessed liar as a member of the California bar, appealed once more to a three-judge panel. But in the summer of 2011, the panel also found 2-1 for Glass. So the committee made its final appeal to the California Supreme Court, which accepted the case.