Asked and Answered

 Donald Campbell on the Stephen Glass Story

By Steve Thorpe

In a recent unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court said Stephen Glass had not engaged in the kind of exemplary conduct over a long period that would make up for his earlier behavior as a journalist and could not be admitted to the state bar. Glass was a prominent magazine writer in the late 1990s, whose stories appeared in publications including Rolling Stone, Harper’s and The New Republic. Glass eventually acknowledged that 42 articles were partially or wholly fabricated, according to a filing prepared by his lawyers. Donald Campbell is an attorney with Collins Einhorn Farrell in Southfield. He is an ethics specialist. His primary practice areas include ethics advice, grievance defense, judicial tenure matters, and legal malpractice defense.


Thorpe: You’ve followed the case. Were you surprised by the outcome?

Campbell: While the case garnered attention before the Court denied admission to Glass, the review panel voted to approve him. So the reversal was somewhat surprising. Maybe even more surprising was the dim view the Court had concerning Glass’ pro bono work as law clerk. The suggestion was that pro bono services are unremarkable (would that this was true). In Michigan when you are approved by a district panel or the state committee (we have three levels of consideration for admission) the state board generally will accept the recommendation, but there are times when the panel or committee is persuaded but not the board.  In Michigan, the applicant must persuade the board by clear and convincing evidence of her or his present fitness and good character.

Thorpe: Glass’s case is interesting, at least in part, because sins committed in a different profession — journalism — are being used to stop him from full participation in his new profession — the law. How unusual is that?

Campbell: It is unusual, at least percentage-wise rare, for someone to come to the law as a second profession. The majority of law students don’t have a substantial professional work history. What is somewhat unique is that Glass took on law school and finished knowing that had these unexpiated journalistic sins. It is also unusual that these were not the garden variety venial transgressions, but rather were more of the mortal kind, at least within journalism. His stories were not only false; they were lies that impacted real people and put others (co-workers he connived into not fact checking correctly, editors who ran the stories, the publisher, and the real people wrongly portrayed in the phony stories) in jeopardy through his actions.

Thorpe: Does the fact that Glass’s falsifications were multiple and took place over an extended period make a difference?

Campbell: Yes. It also mattered that they continued even while he was a law student. That said, the time between his conduct and the consideration by the California Bar was also a very long period and suggested that while his misconduct was significant, it was also literally from the last century.

Thorpe: A writer for Slate was critical of the decision, saying: “For 10 years, Stephen Glass has been performing virtually all the work of a lawyer for a law firm in California. He is noted for his attention to detail, his care for clients, and his honesty. Exactly how much longer would he need to work in this dedicated way for the justices to forgive? One more year? Five? Ten? How’s never? In the Bible, Jacob served 14 years: Would that be enough?” Does a fitness review usually consider the amount of time that has passed since a transgression? Should they?

Campbell: I tell applicants that the test, if it can be summed up, is whether the lawyers who sit in judgment in the application process would be comfortable trusting you as opposing counsel in a case. If you pass that scrutiny, then you will likely be admitted. Glass did not meet that test. The Court focused on a lack of remorse. But I don’t think that was the basis of the denial. In fact, the owner of the publication he worked for testified in his favor. The passage of time helped Glass, but time alone could not heal the deep self-inflicted wounds to his trustworthiness.

Thorpe: That same Slate writer ended his piece by saying: “(The justices) care about telling themselves that their profession is saintlier than it is, and they’re superior to the reformed liar who wants to work with them. But law isn’t holy orders. It’s a job.” Comment?

Campbell: I read an article some time ago about a new Court House that was being proposed, the architect had suggested a majestic arched entrance with the inscription, “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’intrata” around the archway. Only late in the process did folks realize the proposed statement was not some quaint Latin maxim but rather the words above the gates to Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Roughly they mean “Abandon all hope, anyone who enters.” They say the devil is in the details. As to the perception of a holier than thou attitude by the Court, the admission of a person to the Bar is a statement that this person is fit to serve as a Minister of Justice. I don’t think that task should be taken lightly.

Thorpe: Could Glass start the whole process over in a different state and hope for a more favorable outcome?

Campbell: There is no prohibition on him attempting to apply in another state. There is a limit on how long his test scores are good, so he may have to re-take the Bar Exam.  Of course, along with his other hurdles, now he would have to both fully disclose the rejection by the California Court and explain why despite that he would be fit to practice and safe to recommend to the bench, the bar and public in that new state.



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