Can one ever be rehabilitated from moral turpitude?
Remember Stephen Glass? He was the young journalist (in his 20’s) who lied and fabricated news stories. He was found out, disgraced and fired, never again to be hired as a journalist. A movie was made of his escapades, Shattered Glass. Fast forward through psychoanalysis, moving from New York to California, studying law, writing a successful book about journalism and “growing up.”
He went to law school, clerked for two federal judges, and interned in a law firm. He applied to the New York Bar, but withdrew his application when he learned that he would be rejected on moral turpitude grounds. He has now applied for admission to the California Bar. He worked for a California personal injury lawyer. Each of his employers has supported his application.
Despite his literary success, his scholastic achievement, and his apprenticeship in the law … and the passage of more than 10 years since his misdeeds, the State Bar of California opposes his admission to the Bar, as did New York. He pursued, however, and the matter is now before the California Supreme Court, after a 10 day confidential bar trial.
The real question is whether Glass is rehabilitated. If you defile one profession (journalism), are you forever tainted thereafter? Is our “penal” system meant for retribution or rehabilitation? We allow lawyers who have stolen from trust accounts because of alcoholism and drug addiction (diseases) to reenter the practice of law. Is there a different standard here? Not being privy to the trial testimony, one can only wonder why the Bar is so adamant in its position, given the support for Glass that is public.
We don’t have a really good definition of moral turpitude beyond platitudes; it’s on a case by case basis. And we don’t have a really good definition of rehabilitation; again, this is on a case by case basis. But, Glass’ experience in the legal community suggests that he has learned his lesson … a particularly important lesson when one is an officer of the court and the court relies on attorneys’ assertions representing clients.
Perhaps I am a bit cynical here. But, I wonder why the Bar is so harsh on Glass when we all can call out the names of lawyers who misquote case citations in briefs and otherwise misrepresent to the court in order to advance their position. Yet, these lawyers are seldom reprimanded, let alone disbarred. And in the field of sport, we know athletes “cheat” in order to better their chances of winning a race, often with impunity. Yet, here we have a person who has “paid a high price” for his cheating, has done what he could to rehabilitate himself, and yet is being denied the license of his new chosen profession.
Why is it that drunks and alcoholics can be considered rehabilitated even when they have stolen from their clients trust accounts or have been involved with terrible accidents, sometimes causing death to their victims? But, liars? Liars who have not caused anyone physical injury? With due respect to the Bar of which I am a member, Glass did not commit a heinous crime and should be given another chance.