Michael Cohen’s lawyer cited three fake cases in possible AI-fueled screwup

Enlarge / Picture of attorney David Schwartz from his website.

A lawyer representing Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen filed a court brief that cited three cases that do not exist, according to a federal judge. The incident is similar to a recent one in which lawyers submitted fake citations originally provided by ChatGPT, but it hasn’t yet been confirmed whether Cohen’s lawyer also used an AI tool.

“On November 29, 2023, David M. Schwartz, counsel of record for Defendant Michael Cohen, filed a motion for early termination of supervised release,” US District Judge Jesse Furman wrote in an order to show cause yesterday. “In the letter brief, Mr. Cohen asserts that, ‘[a]s recently as 2022, there have been District Court decisions, affirmed by the Second Circuit Court, granting early termination of supervised release.'”

Schwartz’s letter brief named “three such examples,” citing United States v. Figueroa-Florez, United States v. Ortiz, and United States v. Amato. The brief provided case numbers, summaries, and ruling dates, but Furman concluded that the cases are fake.

“As far as the Court can tell, none of these cases exist,” Furman wrote. Furman, a judge in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered Schwartz to provide copies of the three cited decisions by December 19.

“If he is unable to do so, Mr. Schwartz shall, by the same date, show cause in writing why he should not be sanctioned pursuant to (1) Rule 11(b)(2) & (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (2) 28 U.S.C. § 1927, and (3) the inherent power of the Court for citing non-existent cases to the Court,” Furman wrote.

Assuming he can’t turn up those cases, Schwartz must also provide “a thorough explanation of how the motion came to cite cases that do not exist and what role, if any, Mr. Cohen played in drafting or reviewing the motion before it was filed.”

Cohen’s new lawyer couldn’t verify citations

Schwartz advertises his criminal defense services on a personal website with a tagline that says, “The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.”

We contacted Schwartz today and will update this article if we get a response. A Politico reporter called Cohen yesterday but reported that “Cohen hung up the phone” when asked for comment.

In a footnote on his order, Furman notes that the court “is apparently not alone in being unable to find these cases.” On December 6, attorney E. Danya Perry notified the court that she would be representing Cohen. On December 9, Perry wrote to support the motion for terminating supervised release but acknowledged that she could not verify the cases cited by Schwartz.

“While several cases were cited in the initial Motion filed by different counsel, undersigned counsel was not engaged at that time and must inform the Court that it has been unable to verify those citations,” Perry wrote.

This may be another instance of a lawyer citing fake cases hallucinated by an artificial intelligence tool. In May, a federal judge in the same District Court 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. The lawyers also had to write letters to the six real judges who were “falsely identified as the author of the fake” opinions cited in their legal filings.

In Texas, one federal judge imposed a rule banning submissions written by artificial intelligence unless the AI’s output is checked by a human. In another federal court in the District of Columbia, convicted rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel argued that he should get a new trial because his lawyer “used an experimental AI program to write” a “frivolous and ineffectual closing argument.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *