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January 3, 2012 3:39 PM

Pressing Bar Admission Fight, Notorious Fabulist Stephen Glass Hires High-Profile Appellate Team

Posted by Scott Graham

Stephen Glass, the disgraced former journalist now fighting to be admitted to the California State Bar, has brought in new appellate lawyers to make his case to the state’s highest court. And they’re making that case aggressively, accusing the State Bar of both committing its own ethical lapses and putting Glass in an unfair catch-22.

The new additions to Glass's appellate team are Jon Eisenberg, an Oakland lawyer who gained notoriety for winning a 2010 judgment against the U.S. government for warrantless wiretapping, and veteran Southern California appellate specialist Kent Richland. Los Angeles professional responsibility specialists Arthur and Susan Margolis remain as cocounsel.

The Glass team filed its latest brief (PDF) Tuesday, acknowledging the severity of the "staggering" and "appalling" conduct that ended Glass's journalism career, but arguing that over the last 14 years he has matured, apologized for his misdeeds, and been forgiven by many of his victims.

Glass's lawyers also accuse the State Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners of selectively deleting favorable precedent from their own brief opposing Glass's admission, and ridicule the panel's position that Glass must first rehabilitate his journalism career before being allowed into the legal profession.

"Here is the Committee's logic," they write. "Glass should not be admitted to the practice of law until he reestablishes himself in journalism; Glass can never reestablish himself in journalism; therefore Glass should never be admitted to the practice of law. Joseph Heller would smile.”

Glass, a 39-year-old law clerk at Beverly Hills plaintiffs firm Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, was a budding star at The New Republic from 1996 to 1998 who also wrote articles for Harper's, Rolling Stone, and other publications. He perpetrated one of the most notorious journalistic frauds in industry history, fabricating parts or all of more than 40 articles, even going so far as to create a phony Web site and to enlist his brother as a fake source to deceive editors. His transgressions are documented in the 2003 movie Shattered Glass.

While setting the world on fire and burning his editors in the process, Glass was also studying at Georgetown University Law Center. He applied to the New York bar in 2002, but withdrew his application when the bar expressed concerns about his moral character. He relocated to Los Angeles and passed the California exam in 2007, but the California bar denied his admission in 2009 for the same reason.

"Applicant's conduct was of such magnitude," the Committee of Bar Examiners recounted in a brief filed in September (PDF), "that it was covered extensively by the media and even became the topic of a '60 Minutes' episode, a major motion picture, a novel, and a museum exhibit in Washington D.C.—all of which permanently memorialize the massive fraud perpetrated by Applicant on the American public and the journalistic community."

Upon being rejected, Glass took his case to the independent State Bar Court, which, following a ten-day trial in 2010, ruled in his favor. The court's appellate department upheld that ruling by a 2-to-1 vote last year. But in November, the committee persuaded the California Supreme Court to take another look at the case.

It's the first time in 11 years that the state's highest court has agreed to review a prospective lawyer's moral character. (The last time the court took up such a matter, it ruled that a former heroin addict who had killed his sister 25 years earlier was unfit for practice law because he had continued to commit misdemeanors, including driving with a suspended license.) Meanwhile, various prominent journalists have weighed in on the matter, with The New York Times’s Joe Nocera urging that the California State Bar admit Glass and Jack Shafer at Reuters stating his opposition.

At his trial before the State Bar Court in 2010, Glass presented testimony from 22 witnesses—including former TNR owner Martin Peretz and U.S. district judge Ricardo Urbina of Washington, D.C. Peretz, who flew in from Washington to testify in person, told the court, "I believe that Steve was caught in a psychological morass, and it is my impression . . . that he is a man of probity, a man who has learned, painfully, from his mistakes . . . I don't think what Steve committed, and his journey after, should condemn him to be exiled from respectable, ethical society."

Other key witnesses speaking up for Glass include his partner of ten years, Julie Hilden—a former Williams & Connolly lawyer who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer when he sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit—and Paul Zuckerman, a name partner at Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley who has worked closely with Glass for six years.

Zuckerman testified about Glass’s work with pro bono clients, including an alcoholic, mentally ill man who was hit by a bus and seriously injured. Glass helped the man get sober and obtain a colostomy nurse, and at times even personally cleaned him when he was covered in his own filth, Zuckerman testified. Glass's own history of misconduct and redemption, Zuckerman said, has enabled him “to really sit down and relate” to such clients and “create the necessary rapport that you need” to effectively represent them.

Drawing on such testimonials—and previous rulings in the case—Glass's lawyers write in the brief filed Tuesday that their client "has made a compelling showing of his rehabilitation—a showing that the [Bar Court Appellate] Department called 'overwhelming.' He is deeply remorseful for his misconduct. He has undergone more than a decade of psychotherapy to improve himself. Two prominent psychiatrists who evaluated Glass over hundreds of hours since 2005 have opined that he is fully rehabilitated. He has done exemplary work as a law clerk. He has achieved a stable and fulfilling personal life. He has committed himself to unrelenting honesty."

The Committee of Bar Examiners is unmoved. It says that Glass continued his campaign of deceit by stating on his New York bar application that he had "worked with" TNR and other publications to determine which facts printed under his name were true and which false, so that the record could be corrected.

The committee quotes testimony provided by Charles Lane, the TNR editor who uncovered Glass's fabrications, at Glass's moral character hearing: "He didn't work with us. The effort we went through, over the course of nearly a month, to investigate all those stories would have been unnecessary if he had worked with us, and simply come forward and laid bare everything that was untrue in his stories. Instead, he sought legal counsel and, in effect, clammed up."

(Glass's lawyers say TNR and Glass entered into a joint defense agreement under which TNR prepared a list of suspected fabricated articles and Glass stipulated to which ones contained falsehoods. He stipulated to 23 but missed four because he was "depressed and devastated," his lawyers maintain.)

The bar committee also says the nature of Glass's fabrications—some of which it contends were racist or anti-Semitic in nature and seriously damaged peoples’ reputations—should not be minimized. As one example, the committee cites an article about Vernon Jordan, a member of former president Bill Clinton's inner circle. In the article, the committee notes, Glass stated without any factual basis that Jordan had a reputation for "making sexual advances to female dinner partners."

"Where, as here, the misconduct is extremely egregious, Applicant must demonstrate exemplary conduct over a sustained period of time and make a compelling showing of reform," the committee maintains. "Applicant apparently does not understand this concept, as he argued before the State Bar Court that his past misconduct is irrelevant to his claim of present good moral character."

Eisenberg, of Oakland's Eisenberg & Hancock, is a former research attorney at the California Court of Appeal who is carving out a niche for himself in private practice by taking on polarizing cases. In 2004 he represented Michael Schiavo, the husband of Terri Schiavo, in the bitterly fought right-to-die case in Florida. He has spent much of the last several years representing the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct charity accused by the Bush administration of supporting terrorists, as well as two lawyers associated with the charity. In 2010 U.S. district judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco ruled that the Bush administration violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by illegally wiretapping Eisenberg's clients. Eisenberg & Hancock's William Hancock has also joined the Glass team.

Richland is a partner at Los Angeles appellate boutique Greines Martin Stein & Richland. In 2010 he successfully argued City of Ontario v. Quon, a case that saw the U.S. Supreme Court rule that a public employee has no expectation of privacy in personal text messages sent via an employer-issued pager. Glass's other lawyers, Arthur and Susan Margolis, of Margolis & Margolis, are among the most prominent members of California’s professional responsibility bar.

The brief filed Tuesday is more aggressive in tone and approach than Glass's previous filings in the case. For instance, the filing accuses Bar lawyers of "sleight-of-hand" for omitting a precedent favorable to Glass when reciting the court's test for applicant credibility. And in response to the Bar's contention that Glass should have disgorged the $140,000 he earned from writing a book related to his experiences, the lawyers write, "Sackcloth, ashes, and a vow of poverty are not required for Glass to become a worthy member of the California bar."

Asked why he decided to represent Glass, Eisenberg says, "I didn't take the case until I could spend a weekend looking it over and deciding for myself if I believed in the cause, and I do."

A State Bar attorney handling the case, Rachel Grunberg, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Grunberg told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that journalism and the law share common core values—"trust, candor, veracity, honor, respect for others." Glass, she said, "violated every one of them."

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It appears to be a catch-22 situation, but I wouldn't hire any firm in which Glass worked to represent me!

No Catch-22; just an argument that he should never be admitted. (It would only be a Catch-22 had he been required to commit the subject deceit. In general, see my "Now it’s Judge Honn’s turn to be the state-bar establishment laughing stock: The Stephen A. Glass embarrassment." (http://tinyurl.com/878s9pr)

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