Michael Cohen gave his lawyer fake citations invented by Google Bard AI tool

Key Takeaways:

– Michael Cohen admitted to providing fake AI-generated court citations to his lawyer, who did not verify their authenticity before submitting them in a court brief.
– Cohen obtained the fake court cases from Google Bard, mistaking it for a super-charged search engine rather than a generative AI tool.
– The fake citations were used in a motion seeking early termination of Cohen’s supervised release, but the judge determined that the cases did not exist.
– Cohen’s lawyer apologized for not checking the citations personally and blamed the conduct of his client.
– Cohen’s other lawyer confirmed that Cohen provided the citations he found online, believing them to be real, but the lawyer failed to verify them before filing the motion.
– Cohen, who was disbarred five years ago, relied on his attorneys in this matter and did not engage in any misconduct.
– The incident is similar to a previous case in the same district court where lawyers were fined for using an AI chatbot to invent nonexistent cases in court filings.

Ars Technica:

Enlarge / Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court in New York on December 14, 2023.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

Donald Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, admitted providing fake AI-generated court citations to his own lawyer, who failed to check whether the cited cases were real before submitting them in a court brief. Cohen said the fake court cases came from Google Bard and that he thought Bard was like “a super‑charged search engine” rather than a generative AI tool.

As previously reported, Cohen’s lawyer, David Schwartz, cited three cases that do not exist in a motion seeking early termination of Cohen’s supervised release. The fake citations were meant to show previous instances in which defendants were allowed to end supervised release early—two involved fictional cocaine distributors and the other an invented tax evader.

The brief provided case numbers, summaries, and ruling dates for the citations, but the judge determined that the cases never happened. Facing punishment for violating federal rules, Schwartz filed an explanation that apologized “for not checking these cases personally before submitting them to the court,” but also blamed “the conduct of his client.”

A response last week by Cohen’s other lawyer, E. Danya Perry, said that “Mr. Schwartz’s recollection of the events is largely consistent with Mr. Cohen’s… To summarize: Mr. Cohen provided Mr. Schwartz with citations (and case summaries) he had found online and believed to be real. Mr. Schwartz added them to the motion but failed to check those citations or summaries. As a result, Mr. Schwartz mistakenly filed a motion with three citations that—unbeknownst to either Mr. Schwartz or Mr. Cohen at the time—referred to nonexistent cases.”

Perry, who made her first appearance in the case a week after the November 29 brief that included fake cases, noted that she “alerted the Court to likely issues with Mr. Schwartz’s citations” after discovering the nonexistent cases. The Cohen case is in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“To be clear, Mr. Cohen did not know that the cases he identified were not real and, unlike his attorney, had no obligation to confirm as much. While there has been no implication to the contrary, it must be emphasized that Mr. Cohen did not engage in any misconduct,” Perry wrote.

Cohen was disbarred 5 years ago

Perry’s filing included a declaration from Cohen, who served time in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of evasion of personal income tax, making false statements to a bank, excessive campaign contribution, and causing an unlawful corporate contribution. The charges against Cohen included payments to two women to prevent them from publicizing allegations about affairs with Trump before the 2016 presidential election.

“I must rely on my attorneys in this matter because I was disbarred nearly five years ago; litigation of this sort was not a meaningful part of my practice before then; and I do not currently have access to Westlaw or a similar legal database to research or verify relevant case law,” Cohen wrote last week.

Cohen was unsatisfied with Schwartz’s first draft of the motion and asked Perry, who had represented him in unrelated matters, to review it. Cohen said he texted Perry’s notes to Schwartz and provided several “citations and descriptions [that] came from Google Bard.” Cohen explained that he misunderstood what Google Bard is:

As a nonlawyer, I have not kept up with emerging trends (and related risks) in legal technology and did not realize that Google Bard was a generative text service that, like Chat-GPT, could show citations and descriptions that looked real but actually were not. Instead, I understood it to be a super‑charged search engine and had repeatedly used it in other contexts to (successfully) find accurate information online. I did not know that Google Bard could generate non-existent cases, nor did I have access to Westlaw or other standard resources for confirming the details of cases. Instead, I trusted Mr. Schwartz and his team to vet my suggested additions before incorporating them.

The incident is reminiscent of a previous one in the same District Court in which a judge imposed a $5,000 fine on two lawyers and their law firm after they admitted to using ChatGPT to help write court filings that cited six nonexistent cases invented by the AI chatbot.

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AI Eclipse TLDR:

Former personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, has admitted to providing fake AI-generated court citations to his own lawyer, who failed to verify their authenticity before submitting them in a court brief. Cohen claimed that the fake court cases came from Google Bard and that he believed it to be a powerful search engine rather than a generative AI tool. The citations were included in a motion seeking early termination of Cohen’s supervised release and were meant to demonstrate previous instances where defendants were allowed to end supervised release early. However, the judge determined that the cited cases did not exist. Cohen’s lawyer, David Schwartz, apologized for not checking the cases personally, but also blamed his client’s conduct. Another lawyer in the case, E. Danya Perry, confirmed that Cohen did not know the cases were fake and had no obligation to confirm their authenticity. Cohen, who was disbarred five years ago, explained that he relied on his attorneys for legal research as he did not have access to legal databases. The incident is similar to a previous case in the same district court where two lawyers and their law firm were fined for using an AI chatbot to cite non-existent cases in court filings.