SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Stephen Glass, one of the most infamous fabricators in modern American journalism, faced a hostile California Supreme Court on Wednesday in his quest to demonstrate that he is a changed man with the moral fiber needed for admission to the state’s bar.
Glass was a magazine journalism phenomenon in the late 1990s, whose stories appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, Harper’s and The New Republic. Eventually, Glass acknowledged that 42 articles were partially or wholly fabricated, according to a filing prepared by Glass’s attorneys.
After his journalism career ended, Glass attended law school and applied to the California State Bar. The Committee on Bar Examiners, which requires that applicants “receive a positive moral character determination,” rejected his application. Glass then appealed to a special court which granted the admission request.
The Committee on Bar Examiners challenged that ruling, and the California Supreme Court agreed to review it.
At a hearing in Sacramento on Wednesday, Glass’s attorney Jon Eisenberg argued that Glass had reformed, undergone extensive psychotherapy and gained the trust of his coworkers.
“The question is, Is he a liar today?” Eisenberg said. “The record demonstrates, as well as any record can demonstrate, that he is not a liar today.”
Eisenberg faced skeptical questions from every justice on the seven-member court. Justice Carol Corrigan said Glass has not performed the kind of charitable good works that demonstrate strong character, which people making far less money than Glass do all the time.
“They say character is what you do when no one is looking,” Corrigan said, adding that Glass’s track record on that score has been “abysmal.”
Glass’s journalism career came crashing down in 1998 when one of his editors received a tip that one story was a fabrication.
“Glass invented sources, events and organizations. He concocted quotes,” his attorneys acknowledged in a court filing. “On several occasions he told mean-spirited and hurtful lies about real people.”
Glass wrote a fictionalized account of the events in the book “The Fabulist,” and the movie “Shattered Glass” was based on his experience. In court on Wednesday, Justice Ming Chin noted that Glass had received a sizeable retainer for the book, as well as salary for the magazine pieces he fabricated.
“Did he repay any of that salary?” Chin asked.
“Absolutely not. Not a penny,” replied Rachel Grunberg, an attorney for the Committee of Bar Examiners.
Glass submitted testimony from lawyers, judges and others attesting to his honest nature, including Martin Peretz, who edited the New Republic at the time of Glass’s fabrications.
But California bar examiners believe Glass only shows contrition when it suits him. Glass only compiled a full list of his fabrications when he was trying to gain admittance.
Glass “has an excuse for everything and he should not be able to masquerade his deficiencies by claiming that he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt,” Grunberg wrote in a filing.
In court, several justices asked for specific evidence of the kind of extraordinary behavior that would convince them Glass had reformed. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged that Glass works hard and has gained the respect of others.
“But I could say that for 90 percent of the people in this room,” she said.
The court is expected to rule in the next 90 days. The case in the California Supreme Court is In re Stephen Randall Glass on Admission, S196374.
Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Leslie Adler