The Fugees’ Pras Michel is arguing he deserves a new trial in his federal conspiracy case in part because his original attorney provided “ineffective representation,” even allegedly using an AI program to draft his closing argument.
Back in April, Michel was convicted on 10 counts of conspiracy and falsifying records for his role in a multimillion-dollar government influence campaign that involved both the Obama and Trump administrations. The charges against him included money laundering, illegal lobbying, witness tampering, and campaign finance violations.
Michel has repeatedly denied the charges against him, and on Monday, Oct. 16, his new legal team filed a motion for a new trial. They argued that “numerous errors… undermine confidence in the verdict,” citing both the actions of Michel’s former layer, David Kenner, as well as allegedly dubious decisions regarding evidence the jury heard at trial.
With regards to Kenner’s representation, Michel’s new legal team said the attorney “outsourced preparations — including drafting briefs, critical cross-examinations, and the opening statement — to inexperienced contract attorneys who work for an e-discovery vendor.” They also claimed he didn’t “familiarize himself” with pertinent statutes involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act and money laundering, and failed to “object to damaging and inadmissible testimony.”
Furthermore, Kenner allegedly “used an experimental artificial intelligence (AI) program to draft the closing argument, ignoring the best arguments and conflating the charged schemes, and he then publicly boasted that the AI program ‘turned hours or days of legal work into seconds.’” Beyond just using the AI program, Michel’s new lawyers claim Kenner and his co-counsel had “an undisclosed financial stake” in the AI program he used, and that “they experimented with it during Michel’s trial so they could issue a press release afterward promoting the program — a clear conflict of interest.”
Kenner did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Along with Kenner’s alleged conduct, Michel’s legal team claimed the jury was exposed to evidence from two federal judges and the lead case agent in the Michel investigation, all of whom “believed Michel was guilty, reducing the jury to a rubber stamp.” The filing claims the jurors should never heard this “improper evidence,” adding that, as a result, the jury “began deliberations with the presumption that Michel was guilty, as two federal judges and a case agent had already informed them.”
The case against Michel, as Rolling Stone outlined in an extensive feature earlier this year, stemmed from the musician’s relationship with Malaysian financier Jho Low. Low is accused of stealing $4.5 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund, and prosecutors accused Michel of pocketing millions from helping Low run foreign-influence campaigns against the U.S. (Low was named as a co-defendant but is currently a fugitive.) Specifically, Michel was accused of funneling money from Low to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, as well as lobbying Donald Trump’s administration to drop an investigation into Low and extradite the dissident Chinese billionaire.
Michel continually maintained his innocence, telling Rolling Stone, “What benefit would I get trying to break laws? It’s not worth it to me. I’m like a pariah now. I’ve got friends who won’t talk to me because they think there’s a satellite in orbit listening to them.”