Monday, January 27, 2014
Stephen Glass and the the California Bar
The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied the bar application of former journalist Stephen Glass (of Shattered Glass infamy), a case I wrote about a couple years ago. David Plotz of Slate, who watched this all up close (Plotz's wife, Hann Rosin, was an editor at TNR at the time) and who admittedly does not like Glass, has a sharp takedown of the decision. I am not surprised by the reversal (the lower panels had recommended admission, so I could not see the court taking the case just to affirm), although I am a bit surprised by the unanimity.
I don't do PR and I generally question many of the character-and-fitness rules as irrelevant to the practice of law, so I do not have a lot to say about whether the decision is right or wrong. There is a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't quality to the decision--the court dismisses many of Glass' efforts at rehabilitation and restitution as selfish, motivated by a desire to improve himself and taking place while he had pending applications to the New York or California Bars. As I said previously, lawyers and journalists do very similar jobs, so I understand the particular apprehension with this candidate. But Plotz has a good response, grounded in the adversariness of the legal system--what judge and what opposing lawyer is not going to keep the sharpest of watch when Glass is involved in a case, scrutiny sure to catch any efforts by Glass to repeat his sins.
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I'm sympathetic to the argument that the C&F determination in most states is based upon "half-baked folk psychology," as Brad Wendel expressed it at our blog. Mitch Simon has also written some interesting pieces about the process.
But that point Plotz makes strikes me as precisely wrong. Even in the adversarial system, lots of things that lawyers do are done alone in a room with no one watching. Judges (with their large dockets) necessarily have to trust an enormous amount of the work that lawyers do. Opposing lawyers can't chase down every ball. And Plotz's point doesn't account for an important person -- the client -- who rarely has the knowledge and time to watch over everything the lawyer does. Finally, even if it were possible for the judge, opposing lawyer and client to devote special scrutiny to Glass "every efforts," there's no reason the system should place a special burden on them. (If you watch the oral argument -- a great assignment for a PR class -- you will hear the justices talk about those issues.) Any hour a judge spends giving extra scrutiny to Glass's matters is an hour lost to litigants who hired lawyers that the judges trust. And how about that extra hour the opposing lawyer spends on watching Glass more closely? Who pays for that?
Fwiw, my sense is that what killed his chances were the equivocations and half-truths he told while a law student seeking admission to the bars.
Posted by: John Steele | Jan 28, 2014 8:56:19 AM
I'm with John Steele.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 28, 2014 10:02:03 AM
"But Plotz has a good response, grounded in the adversariness of the legal system--what judge and what opposing lawyer is not going to keep the sharpest of watch when Glass is involved in a case, scrutiny sure to catch any efforts by Glass to repeat his sins."
That's an argument in favor of admitting anybody, no matter what they've done.
And lawyers handle a lot of money and transactions for people, things which generally *don't* come before a judge.
Posted by: Barry | Jan 28, 2014 11:53:15 AM
(sorry for the redundancy)
Posted by: Barry | Jan 28, 2014 11:59:43 AM
Plotz's assertion is terrible for the reasons listed above.
Plotz should have gone on to say that Glass's clients, too, would watch him carefully. Better yet, Glass would never have any clients, because who on earth would hire such an untrustworthy lawyer?
Posted by: Sykes Five | Jan 28, 2014 1:03:08 PM