United States District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel issued an opinion on June 22, 2023, imposing sanctions and other penalties on the attorneys who relied on the artificial intelligence application, ChatGPT, in citing to fake cases in pleadings submitted to the court earlier this year.
Judge Castel’s thirty-four page opinion details the missteps of the lawyers, including filing the submission citing the fake cases, failing to withdraw the submission after opposing counsel identified the fake cases, doubling down on the existence of such cases when their validity was called into question, offering false information to the court in order to obtain an extension to a court ordered deadline, and providing “shifting and contradictory explanations” as to how and why the bogus case citations were submitted to the court.
The opinion makes clear that the real issue was the fact that the lawyers continued to mislead the court. Judge Castel wrote that, had the lawyers come clean about their actions shortly after they received the opposing parties’ brief questioning the existence of the cases, the outcome may have been different. While “poor and sloppy research” would amount to mere “objectively unreasonable” actions, the court found that the lawyers acted with subjective bad faith in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 based on all the subsequent failures to disclose.
Luckily for the offending attorneys, the court found that their submission of the fake opinions did not constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 505. The statute states that it is a crime to knowingly forge the signature of a United States Judge or the seal of a federal court. Because the fake opinions did not include a signature or seal, the statute was not violated. But the court noted that the submission of fake opinions raises concerns with protecting the integrity of federal judicial proceedings and is an abuse of the adversary system.
Ultimately, the implicated lawyers were required to pay a penalty of $5,000 and to send letters to each individual judge falsely identified as the author of the fake opinions. Judge Castel’s opinion is a reminder that while a court may be forgiving of a lawyer’s choice to cut corners, lying to the court is still sanctionable.
Cite: Mata v. Avianca, Inc., No. 22-cv-1461, slip op. (S.D. NY. June 22, 2023).