In recently unsealed court documents, Michael Cohen, the former fixer for Donald Trump, admitted to inadvertently providing his lawyer with false legal citations generated by an artificial intelligence program called Google Bard. These misleading citations were subsequently used in a motion submitted to federal judge Jesse Furman, where Cohen sought an early termination of the court’s supervision of his case.
Michael Cohen admits to using false legal citations
Michael Cohen, who had previously pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and served time in prison, explained in a sworn declaration that he was not attuned to emerging trends and risks in legal technology. Specifically, he was unaware that Google Bard functioned as a generative text service, akin to ChatGPT, capable of producing citations and descriptions that appeared authentic but were fabricated. Additionally, Michael Cohen expressed surprise that his lawyer, David Schwartz, incorporated the AI-generated citations into the motion without independently verifying their legitimacy.
This incident marks the second instance this year in which lawyers in Manhattan federal court have cited AI-generated decisions, and its potential ramifications extend to a Manhattan criminal case against Trump. Cohen, expected to be a key witness in the trial, has faced consistent attacks from Trump’s legal team, who portray him as an unreliable narrator. The revelation of the use of AI-generated content adds a new layer to these assertions. Schwartz, in his admission, acknowledged using the three questionable citations and publicly apologized to the court for not personally verifying the cases before submission.
Implications of the move on the ongoing trial
The oversight could have broader consequences, especially considering Michael Cohen’s pivotal role in an upcoming trial related to a hush-money scheme during the 2016 election. Scheduled for March 25, the trial involves charges by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg against Trump for orchestrating the payment Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump, who pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges, faces scrutiny over Cohen’s credibility. Defenders of Cohen argue that while he may have lied on Trump’s behalf in the past, he has been truthful since parting ways with the former president in 2018 and pleading guilty to federal charges.
The legal saga unfolded when Judge Furman, unable to locate the referenced decisions in his order on December 12, directed Schwartz to provide copies or a comprehensive explanation of how the motion cited non-existent cases and Cohen’s involvement, if any. This development holds particular weight given Cohen’s significance in the pending trial. Trump’s legal team swiftly seized on the revelation about Google Bard. Susan Necheles, a lawyer representing Trump, criticized Cohen, labeling it as “typical Michael Cohen” and questioning the legitimacy of the district attorney’s case relying on him.
Necheles highlighted Cohen’s prior admission of perjury and multiple felony charges as evidence of his supposed lack of character and ongoing criminality. However, Cohen’s current lawyer, E. Danya Perry, refuted these claims, stating that Cohen did nothing wrong and relied on his attorney’s judgment. Perry characterized Schwartz’s use of unverified citations as an honest mistake in drafting and filing the brief. Cohen, having consented to the unsealing of court papers, seems willing to address these issues transparently. As the legal proceedings continue, the inadvertent use of AI-generated content raises questions about the ethical considerations surrounding the integration of technology in legal practices.