Michael Cohen’s Lawyer Might Have Cited Fake Cases

In a Tuesday order to show cause, David M. Schwartz, who is representing Michael Cohen, one-time lawyer for former President Donald Trump, in his endeavor to end supervised release early, was ordered to produce copies of three decisions cited in his brief that neither another lawyer nor the judge can find. 

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York was informed by another lawyer by means of a footnote that three of the cases cited by Schwartz could not be verified. In the order to show cause, Judge Furman noted that he too could not find the cases.

The situation is strikingly similar to a New York case earlier this year in which two lawyers and their law firm were sanctioned for submitting a brief containing fake cases, citations, and quotes authored with the help of ChatGPT.

In that case, lawyer Steven Schwartz admitted to using ChatGPT to write his brief after lawyers for the other side noticed that he had cited and quoted six non-existent cases. According to Steven Schwartz, he even asked ChatGPT to verify that the cases were real, and he was “unaware of the possibility that its contents could be false.” An investigation revealed that the docket number for one of the cited cases was associated with another case entirely, suggesting that ChatGPT could have combined names and facts from many different cases and joined them together into one non-existent case.

Judge Furman observes something similar in the December 12 order to show cause, stating that one of David Schwartz’s citations “refers to a page in the middle of a Fourth Circuit decision that has nothing to do with supervised release.” Another citation “corresponds to a decision of the Board of Veterans Appeals,” while the third citation “appears to correspond to nothing at all.”

If David Schwartz cannot produce copies of the three cited decisions by December 19, says the order, he must show cause why he should not be sanctioned. The case involving Steven Scharwtz, Mata v. Avianca, Inc., is cited in the order.

Cohen has been on supervised release since November 2021 following a shortened prison sentence for tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank, and campaign finance violations after he admitted that he had made payments to two women for their silence about their alleged affairs with Trump during his first presidential campaign. Cohen is one of the key witnesses in Trump’s New York civil fraud case.

Additional Reading

Lawyer for Michael Cohen apparently cited nonexistent cases, judge says; new counsel pointed out problem, ABA Journal (December 13, 2023)

Michael Cohen’s lawyer in hot water after citing court cases that don’t exist, Politico (December 12, 2023)

U.S.A. v. Cohen Order to Show Cause

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