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Former Trump ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen admits using Google Bard to cite bogus court cases

Cohen said he didn’t realize Bard was a generative AI service that could produce false information.

REUTERS / Reuters

Donald Trump’s former “fixer,” Michael Cohen, used Google Bard to cite made-up legal cases that ended up in a federal court. The New York Times reported Friday that Cohen admitted in unsealed court papers that he passed on documents referencing bogus cases to his lawyer, who then relayed them to a federal judge. Cohen reportedly wrote in the sworn declaration he hadn’t stayed on top of “emerging trends (and related risks) in legal technology.”

Cohen’s legal team filed the paperwork in a motion asking for an early end to court supervision from his 2018 campaign finance case, for which he served three years in prison. After Cohen’s attorney, David M. Schwartz, presented the legal documents to the federal court, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the Federal District Court said he was having trouble finding the three decisions cited by Schwartz (via Cohen).

Judge Furman told Schwartz that if he couldn’t provide documentation of the cases, the attorney needed to 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.” Schwartz must also explain why he shouldn’t be sanctioned “for citing nonexistent cases to the court.” Cohen is a former lawyer who was disbarred after pleading guilty to multiple felonies.

Enter Bard. Cohen said he didn’t realize the AI bot “was a generative text service that, like ChatGPT, could show citations and descriptions that looked real but actually were not.” Cohen also blamed his lawyer, saying he didn’t realize Schwartz “would drop the cases into his submission wholesale without even confirming that they existed.”

Although lawyers using AI chatbots to cite hallucinated cases makes for easy comedy, this flub could have profound implications for a critical case with potential political ramifications. Cohen is expected to be the star witness in the Manhattan criminal case against Trump for allegedly falsifying business records. The Bard flub gives Trump’s lawyers new ammunition to discredit the onetime fixer.

Cohen joins the company of ChatGPT Lawyer Steven Schwartz, who cited made-up cases (sourced through OpenAI’s chatbot) in a civil case earlier this year. He was allegedly joined by the attorney for Fugees rapper Pras Michel. In October, the artist accused his lawyer of using an AI program he may have had a financial stake in to produce his closing arguments.