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Michael Cohen will not face sanctions after generating fake cases with AI

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump's civil fraud trial continues, in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal judge on Wednesday declined to sanction Michael Cohen, the former fixer for Donald Trump, for mistakenly giving his lawyer fake case citations generated by artificial intelligence, calling the episode "embarrassing."

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan also refused to end court-supervised release for Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and tax evasion and served time in prison, and suggested Cohen may have perjured himself.

Furman's decision came as Cohen prepares to be a star witness against Trump in the former president's upcoming criminal trial in Manhattan.

Trump had pleaded not guilty to 34 criminal counts for covering hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to aid his successful 2016 presidential run.

The 2024 Republican presidential candidate and his campaign have long portrayed Cohen as a serial liar, and Furman's decision could add fuel to that portrayal.

'UNFORTUNATE EPISODE'

The citations to three nonexistent cases that Cohen, a former lawyer who has been disbarred, generated through Alphabet's Google Bard appeared in a filing seeking to end his supervised release before November.

Cohen's lawyer, David Schwartz, submitted the filing after his client sought feedback from another lawyer, Danya Perry.

Schwartz said he believed the citations came from Perry, and citing her reputation as a "renowned and skilled trial lawyer" did not check their accuracy. He and Cohen later apologized.

In his decision, Furman called Schwartz's conduct "certainly negligent, perhaps even grossly negligent," but found no evidence of bad faith to justify sanctions. He also did not question Cohen's original belief that the cases were real.

But the judge said that given the publicity surrounding AI, it was surprising Cohen thought Google Bard was a "super-charged search engine" and not a "generative text service" such as ChatGPT.

"As embarrassing as this unfortunate episode was for Schwartz, if not Cohen, the record does not support the imposition of sanctions," Furman wrote.

Barry Kamins, a lawyer for Schwartz, said he was gratified by the finding of no bad faith.

Other lawyers have also used fake citations generated by AI.

In his year-end report on the judiciary, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said using AI requires "caution and humility," and called citing nonexistent cases in court papers "always a bad idea."

WALKING AWAY FROM RESPONSIBILITY

In seeking to end his supervised release, Cohen said his recent testimony in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil fraud case against Trump demonstrated his "exceptional level of remorse and a commitment to upholding the law."

But the judge said Cohen's testimony that he had lied when pleading guilty to tax evasion meant he had committed perjury when entering what plea, or committed perjury when testifying against Trump.

"Cohen's ongoing and escalating efforts to walk away from his prior acceptance of responsibility for his crimes are manifest evidence of the ongoing need for specific deterrence," Furman wrote.

In a statement, Perry called the absence of sanctions against Cohen an "important win," but disputed Furman's characterization of Cohen's testimony, noting that the judge in the civil fraud case wrote "Michael Cohen told the truth."

Perry added: "Defendants often feel compelled to agree to coercive plea deals under severe pressure. That is exactly what happened to Mr. Cohen."

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan, who opposed ending Cohen's supervised release, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Matthew Lewis)