Three years ago, the California State Bar’s Office of the Chief Trial Counsel became the state-bar establishment’s laughing stock when it had to admit that, during an eight-year period, it lost $675,000 to a single thieving clerk. Today, the Bar Court takes its turn at displaying ineptitude that will make the state-bar establishments throughout the country cringe. The State Bar Court Hearing Department, the nefarious Judge Richard A. Honn presiding, reversed the State Bar Board of Bar Examiners to allow the fraud Stephen R. Glass to be admitted to the bar. Judge Honn was affirmed by a 2 – 1 vote in the Review Department, but the California Supreme Court will hear the case on writ of review to decide whether Glass presented sufficient evidence to adjudge him rehabilitated. Glass’s application is a joke, and the Supreme Court will reverse the Review Department. (Jack Shafer sets out the facts of the case in a piece I recommend.)
Glass wrote for The New Republic news magazine, which fired him in 1998 after he had fabricated facts for more than forty articles, deceiving a mass readership by lying to his editor and submitting manufactured evidence to his fact checkers to validate his content. His case for admission in California—New York rejected him—consisted of two parts: he explained the origin of his lying ways by claiming his parents were harsh and demanding, and he vouchsafed his present moral character with 22 character witnesses. His tales about his parents bending the twig are fraught with obvious problems regarding the relevance of the psychological speculation and the credibility of a liar, and record evidence rebuts his rehabilitation. Glass hid half his fraudulent articles from the New York State Bar; he claimed he had corresponded with victims of his libels years before he did in fact; and he lacked compunction about continuing to benefit for years from his ill-gotten gains, even profiting from a novel retelling his adventures in fraud.
I’m unconcerned here with Glass’s fate, concerned only with what the State Bar Court’s findings reveal about its workings. Why were Judge Honn and two judges on the Review Department panel taken in by an obvious psychopath, his schmaltzy childhood stories, and his demonstrated ability to manipulate benefactors—like his character witnesses?
The first reason is the Bar Court’s delight in spectacles of feigned contrition. Glass staged a grand spectacle, not only his huge witness list but also his groveling before the court. Trained to administer “discipline” by humiliation, Honn and company found Glass’s obsequiousness irresistible.
The second reason Glass could dupe the Bar Court is its prejudice favoring large law firms. Glass works for a highly capitalized plaintiffs' firm, Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, which is rich enough to take on the largest defense firms and is, for practical purposes, in their league. The State Bar proved it would not hold big law accountable when Girardi and Lack escaped any State Bar censure after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had found malfeasance.
The third reason is that the California State Bar, due to its commitment to political correctness, will treat homosexual petitioners and respondents capriciously. Sometimes, as here, the court can’t resist a gay sob story; whereas in other cases, such as Tore B. Dahlin’s, it penalizes excessively. Moralism, hyper-emotionality, and authoritarianism combine to make a measured response to homosexual petitioners and respondents impossible.
You didn’t know that Glass was homosexual? Neither did most others if they hadn’t read the novel or seen the movie, but Glass’s sexual orientation is relevant—because he put the etiology of his conduct disorder at issue. Judge Honn avoided drawing connections, despite Glass’s childhood gripes’ obvious relationship, for example, his unpopularity in school and his unease when playing the husband's role in a childhood skit. Judge Honn’s psycho-babble, combined with Honn’s avoidance of themes that offend political correctness or contradict Glass’s personal narrative, show the State Bar Court is incapable of fulfilling its most rudimentary obligation: excluding psychopaths from the profession.