Stephen Glass Update

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Pursuer of happiness. Bon vivant. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. There's a Twitter account at @burtlikko, but not used for posting on the general feed anymore. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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52 Responses

  1. Troublesome Frog says:

    If we had learned about his behavior after his acceptance to the CA Bar, do you think it would have been grounds for disbarment?Report

    • I suspect so, but not quite for the reason you are probably thinking.

      Had all of this only come to light now, six years after a person without this history would have been admitted, then we could pretty safely assume that he had made substantial misrepresentations about himself to the Committee of Bar Examiners when submitting for his moral character application.

      Therefore, my working assumption would have been that the applicant had lied to the Committee in a substantial and material way. But I must add that I only “suspect” this and it would be a “working assumption,” because it’s been a long time since I’ve had to examine the questions on the moral character application. I suppose it’s just possible that if the Committee didn’t ask a question reasonably calculated to get at these facts, he could have honestly answered what he was asked.

      It strikes me as unlikely that they didn’t ask. And of course, in Mr. Glass’s case we did know all about it. Had his fabulism not come to light, he’d no doubt have racked up a mantle full of Pulitzers, and a file cabinet full of book deals by now and he’d not have gone to law school or sought employment as an attorney because he wouldn’t have wanted the pay cut.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Interesting. What if all of the lying happened after his acceptance and there was no evidence that he lied to the committee during his application? Is that behavior alone enough to warrant disbarment?

        I’m interested because it seems like some attorneys do a lot of things that vary from shady to downright dishonest, but disbarment doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often. My assumption is that either the behavior needs to be wrong in a very specific way (e.g. lying to the committee during your application or committing perjury as opposed to being a serial liar in other parts of your life), or that the standard for having your application to the bar denied is much lower than the standard for disbarment after acceptance. Is that about right?Report

        • One thing that a lot of laypeople seem to skip over when considering attorney misconduct is that there are degrees of punishment that can be imposed on an attorney. Not every attorney misdeed is proportionate to permanently stripping that attorney of her ability to practice law. You might suspend an attorney’s license, or less harshly put a restriction on how she uses it, or less harshly require that she submit to monitoring and checkups from a bar investigator, or less harshly than that require that she complete renewed ethics training, or less harshly than that issue her a censure that becomes part of her public record, or less harshly than that issue her a censure that is not part of the public record. You can require that an attorney reimburse and make financially whole someone who was harmed by her misconduct. You can offer her a harsh punishment or a reduced level of one if she completes a series of classes about substance abuse, financial management, or whatever else is appropriate. You might consider whether she demonstrates remorse, whether she has done good things with her license like help out poor people for free. And there’s also the informal sanction of having lost the trust of a court and the inhibitions that imposes upon one’s practice — clerks and judges don’t ever treat an attorney the same way, give her the same opportunities to correct minor mistakes in their paperwork, or trust her representations about what’s going on in a case, after that attorney has been caught lying.Report

    • Colleen in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      I don’t know if that is a fair analogy. I am a nurse and I would NEVER get licensed if I had a drug conviction. But once licensed, many nurses and doctors develop drug problems (access) that can sometimes result in DUI or drug charges. They are often allowed to go to treatment and if they complete the required protocol they are allowed to keep their license. That does not mean they will keep their jobs- that is up to the employer and their answer is usually no, but they can often keep their license. I think it is quite common to have a high standard of entry to a profession, but also realize that humans make mistakes and need a path for restitution. They are given this second chance because they have already proven themselves to be capable of maintaining high standards. Glass has never proven himself capable of maintaining high standards, repeats his lies when he feels a lie will benefit him (as he proved by lying on his bar application) and in the eyes of the Bar, never showed remorse.Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    I disapprove. An impossibly vague standard has been set by a cartel. There is nothing to like here. Your relief is predicated on your personal interest in how your profession is subjectively evaluated, and in that basis you cheer, however u comfortably, the denial of a career opportunity to another person. The bar has entirely too much authority.Report

  3. Rose Woodhouse says:

    I’m not a lawyer and don’t have a feel for exactly what the bar demands. But I have some sympathy for Glass here. How public need expiation be? A scarlet letter? He did awful, awful things before he he was 25 (if I read correctly). That’s pretty young to have your evil deeds hang over you for life and prevent your moving forward, ever. If he has lived an honest life since then (I really have no idea), then that is something of a turn-around.Report

    • I tend to agree with Rose. It seems there is zero opportunity for redemption for someone who made (serious) mistakes when he was younger. I’m not comfortable with such a system.Report

      • As I originally wrote, I’m uncomfortable with that too; I want to articulate a standard for redemption so that someone like Glass, or even Glass himself, can say “That’s what I need to do, so now I’ve done it.”

        But I do agree with the Court that simply not doing anything else wrong again isn’t enough, and Glass hasn’t done much more than that.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      have your evil deeds hang over you for life and prevent your moving forward, ever.

      I think @james-hanley ‘s cartel concerns may be valid, but I think you overstate the case some here. Lawyer is but one possible career path among many, and there are many ways forward (and if there are fewer than you’d like, well, don’t do the crime). Should all paths be open to someone who got caught in a web of lies?

      Had he stolen money back then, and banks declined now to hire him, would we care that they did so?

      Maybe he should try his hand at novel-writing; or, be a lumberjack.

      Probably many career paths where “got caught making stuff up for print” isn’t too much impediment to hiring.

      Why is he owed “lawyer”, specifically?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Glyph says:

        One thing that makes me uncomfortable is that this becomes solidified after he went to law school. But I don’t know of an easy way to fix that.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        @will-truman – A friend of mine went to law school but never took the bar. He still feels his schooling served him well in his current job. Was something promised to Glass, then taken away? Surely he knew that as part of the bar evaluation they’d look at his past. It was in the papers and everything.

        If he gambled and lost, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Glyph says:

        He’s not owed anything, really. But I wouldn’t want a decision about my suitability for any career made on actions I took before I was 25. That is partially because I was an idiot before I was 25.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        @rose-woodhouse – I was no less an idiot prior to 25 (and arguably 35; and 45 remains to be seen).

        But at some point actions must have consequences, no? If not 23, when? 33? 43?

        What if he’d committed some graver offense – would he still be too young for it to dog him, at least in some arenas?

        At what point is one old enough to know better?

        And it’s not as though as a society we’ve told Glass he can’t eat, or write, or move about freely, or must wear a Scarlet Letter wherever he goes. He’s not on a street corner rattling his tin cup at passerby. He got a degree from Georgetown and works as a paralegal in Beverly Hills for a large, award-winning, tony law firm.

        He’s ALREADY doing a lot better than most people who never had what he had, nor pulled the stunts he did.

        A particular association has said, no, no thanks, find something else.

        This doesn’t strike me as the gravest injustice the world.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Glyph says:

        at some point actions must have consequences, no?

        Well, he did lose his job over it. But maybe we get to keep him hanging on tenterhooks indefinitely, until we decide–if we ever do–that he’s suffered enough consequences to soothe our ling-lingering outrage. There’s no way to preemptively determine when we’ll reach that point, but we’ll know it when we see it.

        In related news, the Supreme Court has ruled that indefinite sentences and fines are constitutionally allowable, as they are self-evidently the consonant with all our ideas of justice.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:


        From his nightmare existence as a paralegal at a tony, large Beverly Hills law firm!

        Quick googling tells me a paralegal in a major CA city makes 64-70k/y, and that increasing your level of education or larger firms can net higher salaries (see, that Georgetown law degree *wasn’t* a waste).

        I think you might have a point with the cartel thing, but a sympathetic victim Glass ain’t. He’s got options.

        He always did, really.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph 7:33 PM

        A particular association has said, no, no thanks, find something else.

        This doesn’t strike me as the gravest injustice the world.

        Well this “particular association” isn’t the local Kiwanis. It is the California Bar Association. AFAIK, membership is required in order to practice law in the state of California. It’s not like he can join the Golden State Bar Association instead; it is either CBA or bust.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        I am aware it is required to practice law in CA. I am unaware of why this is the only career he can choose, or indeed why he chose one that was guaranteed to care about dishonesty – very public, notorious dishonesty – in his past. Are we surprised that dumb s**t one does at 23 may negatively impact one’s future employment options?

        Should I be upset that the Professional Male Model Association of America continues to deny me membership, all because I got a full-face tat of a spiderweb when I was drunk and 23? I mean, I spent all this money on Handsome Boy Modeling School, did my thesis (“Beyond Blue Steel”) and everything. I have a right to this!

        Talk to me about someone who can’t find a job, or a place to live, because they’ve been legally branded a sex offender for having oral sex with their s/o while they were in HS? I got sympathy.

        Talk to me about someone who already has a good job, but feels he deserves a better one that he can’t have because he got caught, repeatedly, in epic lies that embarrassed his employer and defamed the ostensible subjects of his articles, all at the tender, tender post-college age of 23?

        Not so much.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Glyph says:

        Given the reputation of lawyers this is ironic, but I think that requiring some level of honesty from a person who is going to be dealing with court cases is fairly reasonable.

        To me it sounds on the same level as being stripped of a physician’s license due to medical malpractice. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a career; it just means that this particular career is closed to you because, well, you’ve demonstrated that your patients (or in this case, clients) can’t rely upon you.Report

    • I am going to put on my risk managers hat and disagree with both @rose-woodhouse and @jonathan-mcleod here, for the same reasons I used in Burt’s first post on Glass, which is this:

      I think you may be confusing “punishment” with “fiduciary prudence.”

      Whether Stephen Glass has suffered enough for his crimes is, to my mind, immaterial. (And as a side note, it’s also kind of unknowable. To what degree is someone who has exhibited sociopathic behavior in an attempt to be a famous writer really punished by being publicly vilified? Beats me. As with Ms. Palin, Corey Feldman, and most reality TV stars, I’m never entirely sure that being in the headlines for misdeeds is ever really that much against their wishes.) Whether Glass has suffered enough isn’t up to me to decide; it’s also not up to the California Supreme Court or any particular Bar Association. And I agree that Glass deserves the chance to move on with his life and start anew; further, he deserves a shot at real redemption, and should be allowed to have a career doing something with a long-term future.

      But the thing is, being an attorney isn’t just any job.

      More than almost any other career I can think of, attorneys have fiduciary responsibility over their clients lives and property and the public’s interests. That they have such sweeping fiduciary responsibilities is the entire reason bar associations exist in the first place.

      So the question from the Bar’s point of view isn’t whether or not Glass has been punished enough, or whether or not he deserves a second lease on life. The Bar’s relevant question is this:

      Is it reasonable to assume this person might abuse his fiduciary responsibilities were he passed and left to his own devices?

      Because the answer is clearly “yes” in Glass’s case, I don’t see how the Bar could have made any choice but to deny him.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “Clearly yes”

        As with the essay on Eli Manning, we’re back to narratives about people we don’t really know.

        And this assumes someone should have the authority to ban him from a profession based on that narrative, and without making it clear what he could do to change that narrative.

        Every aspect of this smacks of arbitrary authority, and that it was wielded by judges who know quite well the problem of arbitrary authority only adds to the grotesqueness of the whole thing.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        In other words, “The responsibility for protecting the good name of the Bar is ours, and we consider Mr. Glass an unacceptable risk.”

        It seems to me that that’s their call.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “As with the essay on Eli Manning, we’re back to narratives about people we don’t really know.”


        The “narrative” is a guy who fabricated stories as a journalist — not embellished, made them up out of whole cloth, about real people, many of whom were portrayed in detrimental fashion. He lied to his employers and supporters for a ing, long period of time when people first started pointing out this is what is was doing, and only “came clean” when he was caught red handed and had no choice. Then he did it AGAIN, with his book, and put his publisher through the same mess.

        What more about him do I need to know to think he’s the wrong person to allow to be an officer of the court? Hey, we’ve all crossed ethical lines at one point or another. But there are lines, and then there are lines.

        You just don’t give people that do that fiduciary responsibility over others. I get that you don’t like the Bar, and I’m sure there are good reasons for that, but this is something different.

        It’s kind of like how if you’re on the board of a corporation, you do not hire a CFO who has been caught multiple times embezzling from different employers. Or how you if you’re the head of an academic department you don’t hire someone who has been caught plagiarizing the works of others at multiple other institutions. Or if you’re an insurance commissioner, you don’t grant a license to someone who’s been convicted multiple times in fraud cases — even if it wasn’t insurance fraud.

        You just don’t. Period.

        We’re not talking about someone that tore the tags off his mattresses.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Or how you if you’re the head of an academic department you don’t hire someone who has been caught plagiarizing the works of others at multiple other institutions.

        But that one’s because you can’t outbid the government of Malaysia.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      First let’s pardon and expunge the convictions of everyone who became a felon for drug possession that young, then we can talk about pardoning someone whose offenses came from malice aforethought.Report

  4. zic says:

    Stupid question:

    Can’t he take the bar exam in another state? I understand he cannot practice in CA, but does that mean he can’t practice elsewhere, presuming he’s admitted to the bar?Report

    • NewDealer in reply to zic says:

      That’s essentially what he did when New York said no.

      Each state can create their own rules about who can and cannot take the Bar Exam and who can and cannot pass the moral character requirement.

      California is pretty liberal about when you can fill out your moral character application and when you can take the bar. They don’t care about the order, they just want your money. Most people do the California moral character exam during their second or third year of law school.

      By contrast, New York does not allow people to fill out their moral character applications until after they take the Bar examination. If you take the NY bar exam in Manhattan, you need to wait until you pass the bar to fill out your moral character application.

      New York made me do all the leg work and collect the information itself. On the other hand it was free. California charges a few hundred bucks for submitting a moral character application but they do their own investigation.

      I suppose he could continue doing this 48 times until he finds a state that will take him but with two strikes against his moral character, other states are probably on notice and are unlikely to support his moral character application.

      California gave me a small hardtime with my moral character examination because of some pre-law school civil litgation and I was only a mandatory joinder defendant. The plaintiffs were really going after my bosses. Eventually they accepted my answer and the fact that I was indemnified in the lawsuit and really a territary party. New York did not question me on the civil lawsuit because I already had my California license and figured what was good for California was good for them in terms of moral applications.

      There are convicts who are admitted to the bar. What they are looking for is free disclosure, not hiding stuff, and showing remorse/reform. Stephen Glass did not do so according to both New York and California and allegedly omitted material facts from his moral character applications about his tenure as a fabricating journalist.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

      That’s not a stupid question at all, z.

      He absolutely can try another state. I suspect, however, that now that NY and CA have both decided that he’s unfit to be an officer of the court, that Glass would be found equally lacking by other state bars. (Especially since his case was so heavily publicized.)

      But who knows?

      Maybe Texas? I have no idea what the bar is like in TX, but in insurance licensing it does have a reputation of being less concerned about ethical breaches in the past than other states, so maybe? (FTR, I have no idea whether or not this reputation is a fair one or not; I just know other states perceive it that way.)Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to zic says:

      He also passed the NY bar but was denied admission on moral character grounds. No doubt the man is intellectually well-qualified to practice. His intellect is not the question. If Supreme Courts of both CA and NY have both found him morally unfit to practice, then it’s basically curtains for an independent license anywhere. So this particular opportunity, the privilege to practice law under his own license, well, yes, that specific door is closed to him at this point. FWIW, the door is still open if he can figure out something extraordinary he can do to demonstrate why he is worthy of trust in the future.

      It’s not like he lacks for opportunity. He’s been able to survive reasonably well as a paralegal, despite the high cost of living in Los Angeles and possibly student loan debts. As I’ve opined, he is uniquely able to publish and sell fiction with a high public profile and therefore with much higher marketability than the typical writer is. (In theory, he could do both at the same time.) He may well be of value to business or journalism schools as an instructor of some sort — indeed, as a repentant sinner, he may well be able to speak from a worthy perspective about professional ethics and the seductive temptations to deviate from it. That might, if he can pull it off, provide a sufficient redemption that the Supremes would in theory reconsider. And who knows what else such a smart and creative man might think up for himself? It’s very much a matter of his own personal interests and personal preferences at this point.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Everyone who’s worked with him in the past (save his most recent employers – so far) seems to describe him as being brilliant, meticulous, and highly manipulative to an almost sociopathic degree — although most, like Sullivan (for whom Glass was personal assistant), have said it wasn’t until they looked back later that they realized they were even being manipulated.

        So if all he wants is a chance to be successful and make lots of money (as opposed to being famous, or having a “cool” job), I might suggest he try high-end corporate sales. I suspect he would clean up, make six or even seven figures regularly, and those bits of him that are tripping him up in the world of journalism/law would be seen by employers as being strengths.Report

      • zic in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @tod-kelly, you’ve reminded me of a piece in The Atlantic by Judith Ohikuare, Life as a Non-violent Psychopath.

        If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you do. I’m still digesting it a few days later, and will probably have to read it a couple more times, once trying to suss out the manipulations in the interview. (My desire to do this seems cruel to me, too.)

        But this does raise a question you might find interesting: what do you do when, as a manager in a company, you find the non-violent psychopath on your team? Should you analyze the impact on other members of the team? What are the civil-rights violations that come from being recognized as a non-violent psychopath; which may well be what Glass is dealing with, if your supposition is true?Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @zic I haven’t, but I will. At first blush, it makes me think of Jonathan Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, which, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend right back to you.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        As to your question, that one’s waaaaaay out of my field of expertise.

        I’ve never professionally dealt with someone I knew to be a psychopath. And I’ve only professionally come across one person who I have felt strongly might BE one (and that was as a writer, not a RM).

        Because of my complete inability to diagnose (and my total lack of relevant knowledge to even try), in RM I try to avoid falling into the trap of psyco-anlayzing people I am dealing with, or am being paid to deal with. Instead, it’s simply a matter of focussing on the behaviors and their real and/or potential consequences.

        I’m sure there are RMs out there that have had to deal with such a question, but I’m sure not one of them. I could take a shot in the dark and make a recommendation, but in this particular case I doubt my own expertise would be make my recommendations any better than anyone else’s.Report

      • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I know a psychopath. He’s honestly a really, really great guy — because his instincts are selfish, and he expects everyone else to be.

        He treats honestly good people like a precious commodity — if you don’t try to screw him over, he’s likely to be your best friend.

        … he doesn’t have many good people in his life.

        But, i’ll tell you something. He’ll make fun of Kant in an instant, because he finds a strict morality …. “far too limiting” — makes a good manager because of that. Always reassessing, always doing what’s best at the moment, be it a feint, going to the wall for something, or completely bollixing up someone else’s agenda through a bit of “luck”. Some managers are nice, some are kinda evil — he doesn’t have a style.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @zic — Reading now. Wow.

        (Someday I should get a brain scan. I bet it’s a mess in there.)Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        From the article:

        I told them, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You accept this? It’s phony!” And they said, “No, it’s okay. If you treat people better it means you care enough to try.” It blew me away then and still blows me away now.

        What funny about that quote is its perfect mix of practiced vulnerability and obvious manipulation of the reader.

        I don’t think I’m a psychopath, but I do that all the time. (I’m doing it now.)Report

      • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Oh, you’d be surprised.
        Here’s a fun little tidbit:
        “Testosterone is brain poison”Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Oh I know! Hate that stuff. Got rid of mine.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @veronica-dire I also recommend the Ronson book to you. Part of what is fascinating about it is how, as he’s researching the way we identify psychopaths, he discovers how blurry the line is, and how often he himself can identify with the traits associated with them.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Yeah, I expect it’s some crappy logistic analysis over some simple linear model where the input is a shit-ton of raw data from an MRI. Or something like that.

        (Or maybe it’s a little better, but data analysis done well is a rare bird.)

        Oh look! A correlation! Publish!

        (On that note, there is a new gigantic study out about trans suicide. And the issue is real — very real. But the data is so sparse. And the causality weak. And I have no doubt these correlations are for-realz and the issues toxic. But I want to see the data done right, with real causality analyses.)

        Anyway, on the brain stuff. I think humanity has not nearly absorbed the point of view we get from neuroscience. In a way, I’m not sure if we really can absorb it, how our feelings of love, truth, morality, and meaning are in the end an electrochemical wash. It seems a psychological impossibility for us to really think that way, and why would we want to? I think this is why the modern understanding of things like psychopathologies equally repeal and fascinate us.

        It’s kinda like if we found out Azathoth was real — but worse.Report