On Thursday, Judge Castel sanctioned two lawyers and their law firm $5,000 in connection with their widely publicized submission of fake cases generated by ChatGPT.

The relevant events began on March 1, when the plaintiff’s lawyers submitted an “affirmation” in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which first cited the fake cases. On March 15, the defendant a reply brief questioning the existence of many of the cases cited in plaintiff’s “affirmation.”

After reading the reply and being unable to locate a number of the cases himself, Judge Castel ordered plaintiff’s lawyers to produce the cases cited in their opposition. Plaintiff’s counsel submitted an affidavit attaching the excerpts of the “cases” on April 25th. Judge Castel reviewed the “purported decisions” and described them as showing “stylistic and reasoning flaws that do not generally appear in decisions” from federal courts and containing legal analysis that was “gibberish.” On May 4, he ordered plaintiff’s lawyers to show cause why they should not be sanctioned. On May 25, one of the lawyers finally admitted that he had used ChatGPT to conduct his legal research, not understanding that it could invent fake cases.

Judge Castel noted that he would not have sanctioned the attorneys if they had immediately come clean about their submission of fake cases generated by ChatGPT. Instead, the lawyers “doubled down and did not begin to dribble out the truth” for a month and a half after the fake cases were first brought to the Court’s attention. Judge Castel found “bad faith on the part of the individual Respondents based upon acts of conscious avoidance and false and misleading statements to the Court.” He sanctioned the lawyers and their firm $5,000 “to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated.”

The Court noted that the publicity of the case was a factor in deciding against harsher sanctions, and further directed that the sanctioned lawyers write letters to “the most directly affected persons,” namely, their client and the judges whose names appeared as the authors of the fake opinions:

In considering the need for specific deterrence, the Court has weighed the significant publicity generated by Respondents’ actions. The Court credits the sincerity of Respondents when they described their embarrassment and remorse. The fake cases were not submitted for any respondent’s financial gain and were not done out of personal animus. Respondents do not have a history of disciplinary violations and there is a low likelihood that they will repeat the actions described herein.

There is a salutary purpose of placing the most directly affected persons on notice of Respondents’ conduct. The Court will require Respondents to inform their client and the judges whose names were wrongfully invoked of the sanctions imposed. The Court will not require an apology from Respondents because a compelled apology is not a sincere apology. Any decision to apologize is left to Respondents.