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Stephen Glass, disgraced journalist, seeks California law license

The State Bar of California has rejected Stephen Glass, but the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear his case. His employer at an L.A. County law firm champions him.

July 04, 2012|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Paul Zuckerman, a trial lawyer, currently employs Stephen Glass. Years ago Zuckerman initially declined to consider Glass for a job; but after reading his cover letter about his journalistic misdeeds, and some personal reflection on Zuckerman's part, he decided to give Glass an interview. Zuckerman hired Glass in 2004.
Paul Zuckerman, a trial lawyer, currently employs Stephen Glass. Years… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Paul Zuckerman was sifting through resumes when he paused, "astounded," over a particularly strong applicant for a law clerk opening: Ivy League undergraduate, top-notch law school, legal work for two judges in Washington.

Zuckerman's Los Angeles County firm handled personal injury cases — auto accidents and slip-and-falls. He figured the applicant, whose credentials marked him for a prestigious "white shoe" firm, had applied to the wrong place. Then he read the cover letter.

Stephen Randall Glass wrote that he was a disgraced former Washington journalist. While in his mid-20s, Glass had blistered prominent people and organizations in articles he fabricated for the New Republic and other magazines, then engaged in elaborate frauds to conceal his deceit. Zuckerman remembered the scandal. "Shattered Glass," a movie, had been made about it.

"What a liar," Zuckerman remembers saying, and hit the delete button.

Now, eight years later, Zuckerman not only supports Glass but would like to eventually make him a partner.

Whether Glass becomes a lawyer will be up to the California Supreme Court, which must determine if he has rehabilitated himself. Lawyers may spin their client's story but are supposed to adhere to fact. The justice system is a search for truth, and clients depend on the veracity of their lawyers.

The State Bar of California wants him kept out of the legal profession. The bar told the high court that Glass, a "pervasive and documented liar," had "tainted the entire journalism community."

Now 39, Glass lives in a small, rented home near Silver Lake with his longtime girlfriend, three cats and a beagle named Eugene. He has spent years in therapy and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his quest for a law license. He declined to be interviewed but insisted during sworn bar testimony in 2010 that he is a changed man.

He described growing up in an affluent Chicago suburb with parents determined to see him and his younger brother succeed. His father, a gastroenterologist, was rageful, Glass said. His mother, a nurse, was so obsessed with order that she discouraged the brothers from opening the meticulously organized refrigerator — apples on the left, oranges on the right.

Glass said his parents hired tutor after tutor, drilled him for tests and banished him to his bedroom if he answered incorrectly. When Glass misstepped, his mother froze him out and lavished attention on his brother. Glass testified that his brother, who became estranged from their parents, got similar treatment.

After graduating from college, Glass landed a job at the New Republic magazine and enrolled in night classes at Georgetown law school. He said his parents considered journalism frivolous, the law "a garbage profession," and constantly pressed him to go to medical school.

Fearing he would "wash out" at the New Republic, Glass enlivened his articles by concocting quotes and anecdotes. His colleagues unknowingly praised the fictitious parts. He began fabricating more and more, "like doubling down at a casino," he testified.

Glass wrote 42 magazine stories that were wholly or partially fabricated. He made up phony notes, a fictional website, fake business cards and bogus voice-mails to cover up. He had his brother pose as a source to fool a suspicious editor.

Among the lies was a profile of Vernon Jordan, former head of the National Urban League and a friend of Bill Clinton. Glass invented quotes portraying the lawyer as a lecherous fool who made unwanted advances to women, a portrait that still rankles Glass' critics. A now-defunct magazine, George, published the fakery.

By the time Glass was caught in 1998 — a reporter for online Forbes tried to match the reporting on one of Glass' stories and could not locate the subjects — he was 25 and on track to earn $100,000 a year. He was fired and entered the day program at Georgetown law school.

Georgetown law professor Susan Low Bloch met with Glass after his firing and believes he was tormented before being caught. "I think he was relieved when he crashed," she said. He struck her as "very, very anxious to please," intense and prone to speaking rapidly, "very New Yorky," despite his Chicago roots.

She hired him as her research assistant, making him promise "under absolutely no circumstance" to lie. His work was "absolutely outstanding," and she recommended him for posts with two judges she informed of his past and who later "became part of his fan club."

Glass moved to New York, underwent psychoanalysis and wrote an autobiographical novel, "The Fabulist," which portrayed journalists as unscrupulous. The main character, named Stephen Glass, fabricated stories and was caught. Glass earned a net $140,000 from the book, according to his legal brief.

He also wrote letters of apology to those he duped and defamed. A former editor who received one called it perfunctory.

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