AI Blunder in Legal Citations: Michael Cohen's Case Takes a Surprising Turn



by FARUK IMAMOVIC

AI Blunder in Legal Citations: Michael Cohen's Case Takes a Surprising Turn
© Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Michael Cohen, former attorney to the president, inadvertently used non-existent case citations generated by artificial intelligence in his legal proceedings. This unusual circumstance came to light when a federal judge ordered Cohen’s former attorney, David Schwartz, to clarify the origin of the court cases cited in Cohen’s request for early termination of supervised release.

District Judge Jesse Furman noted that the cases cited appeared to be non-existent. Cohen, in his signed declaration, explained that he obtained the citations from Google Bard, an AI chatbot tool similar to ChatGPT. Admitting to being a non-lawyer, Cohen stated he was unaware of the risks associated with using generative text services for legal purposes.

He assumed these AI-generated citations and descriptions looked real but were, in fact, not authentic.

Miscommunication and Misplaced Trust

The incident underscores a series of miscommunications and misplaced trust between Cohen and his legal representatives.

Cohen believed that Schwartz would independently verify the information before incorporating it into legal filings. On the other hand, Schwartz, in his declaration dated December 15, admitted he did not independently review the cases sent by Cohen as he thought they were sourced by Cohen's current attorney, Danya Perry.

Perry, in her response to the court, clarified that she provided only cursory notes on an earlier draft of the motion and was not involved in adding the case citations. She explained that Cohen did not mention her involvement when he sent the AI-generated citations to Schwartz, leading to Schwartz's erroneous assumption about her role in the process.

Legal and Ethical Implications

This incident raises significant questions about the ethical and practical implications of using AI tools in legal matters. It highlights the need for attorneys to exercise caution and verify the authenticity of information, especially when it comes from AI sources.

Perry argued that Cohen should not be held accountable for his attorney's failure to validate the citations, stressing that there was no intention to mislead the court.