Colo. Atty Suspended For Using 'Sham' ChatGPT Case Law

(November 27, 2023, 4:38 PM EST) -- A Colorado attorney has been temporarily suspended after he used "sham" case law citations produced by the artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT in a motion and lied to a judge that an intern produced the errors, according to a state disciplinary ruling.

Zachariah C. Crabill was suspended Nov. 22 for at least 90 days, with the remainder of his 366-day suspension stayed upon completion of a two-year probation period, according to an opinion issued by the Colorado Supreme Court Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge.

"Before a hearing on the motion, Crabill discovered that the cases from ChatGPT were either incorrect or fictitious. But Crabill did not alert the court to the sham cases at the hearing. Nor did he withdraw the motion," according to the disciplinary opinion. "When the judge expressed concerns about the accuracy of the cases, Crabill falsely attributed the mistakes to a legal intern."

Crabill and his counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The suspension stems from Crabill's use of the popular AI chatbot in April 2023. Crabill, who received his license in 2021 and worked as a prosecutor for one year with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, was hired by a client to prepare a motion to set aside judgment in a civil case, according to a stipulation to discipline approved last week.

Crabill had never drafted such a motion before, and says he spent more than six hours sifting through templates and past motions drafted by his law firm at the time, Baker Law Group LLC, before writing an initial draft. Concerned that the motion was taking too long, Crabill then used ChatGPT to find case law that supported his client's position.

Crabill didn't read any of the cases cited by ChatGPT or try to verify their accuracy before using them in his motion, according to the disciplinary agreement. It wasn't until the morning of the hearing that he realized some of the cases "might not be accurate and/or might not exist." Crabill also texted his paralegal that morning and admitted that he did not check the cases.

At the hearing, Crabill didn't raise the issue until 4th Judicial District Judge Eric Bentley mentioned his own concerns about the accuracy of the citations, according to the stipulation.

"I leaned a little too heavily on a legal intern in this case, who I believe got some mistake in case cites," Crabill told the judge.

About a week after the hearing, Crabill filed an affidavit apologizing to the court and explaining his use of ChatGPT. He later withdrew from the case.

Crabill told the state's attorney regulation authority that he panicked and "was not trying to escape culpability as much as he was trying to escape embarrassment," according to the disciplinary agreement.

The agreement also noted several personal challenges that Crabill faced at the time. In addition to starting work in a new area of law, Crabill's brother died by suicide the day before he started working at Baker Law Group. Crabill's wife was also pregnant and his mother died in 2022, according to the stipulation.

Crabill violated his duty to his client to act competently and with diligence, and knowingly lied to the court in violation of professional rules, according to the disciplinary opinion.

In addition to the suspension, Crabill must also pay a $224 administrative fee.

Crabill is represented by Arthur J. Kutzer of SGR LLC.

The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel is represented by Justin P. Moore.

The case is People v. Zachariah C. Crabill, case number 23PDJ067, in the Colorado Supreme Court Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge.

--Editing by Kelly Duncan.

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