Pras Michel appearing in Washington D.C. federal court for an evidentiary hearing on Jan. 11, 2024. Photo obtained by Go West Now.

Overview:

Legal proceedings for Grammy-winning artist Pras Michel escalate as his former counsel's competence is questioned in the pursuit of a retrial. The rapper seeks to overturn his April 2023 conviction, claiming AI influenced the defense strategy.

The legal proceedings surrounding Grammy Award-winning artist Pras Michel have intensified as his quest for a new trial unfolds as the rapper's current legal team attempts to depict his former counsel as woefully inexperienced to handle a white-collar trial.

David Kenner, Michel's former legal representative renowned for his ties to the music industry, testified in a Washington D.C. federal court on Jan. 11 during a pivotal evidentiary hearing that could overturn the Fugees rapper’s April 2023 conviction.

I “hope he gets a retrial,” said Kenner, who represented Michel from 2021 to April 2023, during the hearing overseen by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. “He deserves it.”

Michel was convicted in April on federal charges related to conspiracy and witness tampering in a campaign to lobby two U.S. presidential administrations.

Central to Michel's appeal is the assertion that artificial intelligence shaped Kenner's closing argument. Peter Zeidenberg, Michel's current attorney, alleges that the AI program “EyeLevel” significantly contributed to the defense strategy.

However, testimony from Kenner’s colleague Alon Israely clarified that the program was used as a research and retrieval tool to help find relevant portions of witness transcripts. 

Israely said the bot provided basic “law school 101” type answers.

Questions also arose on Kenner’s fitness to work on an international complex case of this magnitude and self-admittedly asserted limited legal experience working on cases involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), central to defending Michel. According to Kenner, the last time he worked on a FARA case was in 1988.

FARA is a U.S. law enacted in 1938 to address concerns about foreign influence. It requires individuals and entities acting on behalf of foreign principals to register with the Department of Justice, promoting transparency in activities that aim to influence U.S. policy or public opinion.

Michel’s current lawyers, Zeidenberg of ArentFox and former U.S. Senator Doug Jones, also highlighted that his former legal team repeatedly allowed the prosecution to address Michel as a “co-conspirator” inadvertently influencing public opinion that Michel was already found guilty.

“Pras Michel's legal defense clearly failed him in this complex FARA trial,” said Michel's spokeswoman, Erica Dumas. For transparency, Dumas also consults with Go West Now.

“While lead attorney Kenner aimed to direct the strategy, his lack of specific expertise - with only one prior relevant case since 1988 - raises fair competency concerns regarding counsel. Their AI consultant likewise gave only minimal usable input, rather than integral guidance as initially claimed.”

Although Kenner is cooperating with the government, he's asserted he’s not an advert witness for the prosecution but on “Team Pras.”

“Ultimately, Mr. Michel's freedom remains jeopardized by the cumulative results of his former legal team's decisions, despite their best intentions,” Dumas said.

Final testimonies took place yesterday. The judge will make a final decision in the days or weeks to come.

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