Stephen Glass
Stephen Glass ()

SACRAMENTO — Stephen Glass, the infamous journalist whose writing career collapsed under an avalanche of lies, will not be allowed to practice law in California.

The California Supreme Court on Monday said that Glass, now a law clerk for a Beverly Hills plaintiffs firm, had failed to meet “his heavy burden of demonstrating rehabilitation.”

“We … observe that instead of directing his efforts at serving others in the community, much of Glass’s energy since the end of his journalistic career seems to have been directed at advancing his own career and financial and emotional well-being,” said the opinion, which was issued simply “by the court.”

The ruling came as little surprise. A skeptical high court in November focused extensively on Glass’ literary fabrications despite his counsel’s pleas to consider the man he is today.

“Mr. Glass appreciates the court’s consideration of his application and respects the court’s decision,” Glass attorney Jon Eisenberg said in an email Monday. The Horvitz & Levy of counsel declined to comment further.

The decision ends a nearly eight-year attempt by Glass to escape his past and launch a new career in the legal profession. Glass had wowed the journalism world in his 20s, writing torrid articles for The New Republic and other journals that touched on hot-button topics such as race and politics. But the veracity of those stories collapsed—like “a dandelion in a strong wind,” according to one editor—when a fellow journalist began questioning whether certain places and occurrences Glass wrote about actually existed. Glass would eventually admit to fabricating parts of more than 40 articles published in the late 1990s.

“The ruling today vindicates the idea that honesty is of paramount importance in the practice of law in California,” State Bar President Luis Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.

Glass graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2000. He started intensive psychotherapy sessions, penned more than 100 letters of apology to people affected by his fabricated stories and wrote a book, “The Fabulist,” that he said served as a cautionary tale to young writers. He applied to the New York State Bar but ended his attempts to become a lawyer there when told his years of literary deceit—and questions about whether he had truly come clean about his wrongdoing—would likely cost him admittance.

Glass moved to California, where he took and passed the bar exam. A State Bar Court Review Department majority acknowledged Glass’s “appalling” misdeeds but said his successful employment, work with homeless clients, therapy, letters seeking forgiveness and support from mentors and others showed that he had successfully rehabilitated and should be admitted to practice.

But the high court described Glass’ behavior not as a single lapse of judgment, “which we have sometimes excused,” but “significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years.”

“Glass’ misconduct was also reprehensible because it took place while he was pursuing a law degree and license to practice law, when the importance of honesty should have gained new meaning and significance for him,” the court wrote.

The justices said the State Bar Court placed too much emphasis on Glass’ character witnesses, some of whom did not seem to grasp the seriousness of his wrongdoing, the court said. Psychotherapy, while providing Glass “a deep understanding” of his behavior, largely benefitted him and not the community, the panel continued. And the pro bono work Glass cited “is not truly exemplary for attorneys, but rather is expected of them,” the courts said.

“We must recall that what is at stake is not compassion for Glass,” the court concluded, but “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.”

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.