It was a good week for the NRA legal team.
First, a New York judge threw out Attorney General Letitia James’ (D.) attempt to dissolve the group as part of her corruption suit against the organization. Then the NRA settled its dueling lawsuits with former top contractor Ackerman McQueen.
That demystifies the NRA’s immediate future quite a bit.
The NRA won’t be shut down as a result of the New York case. And, while we don’t yet know the details of the Ackerman settlement, it’s unlikely it will have to pay the $50 million its former contractor demanded.
Justice Joel Cohen of the Supreme Court of the State of New York found James’ argument for shutting down the largest gun-rights group in the world was lacking. He argued the NRA wasn’t organized primarily to carry out the alleged corruption, and the corruption did not benefit it as a group. In fact, he said the suspected corruption mainly harmed the NRA, and dissolving it would only further hurt its millions of members.
“In short, the Complaint does not allege the type of public harm that is the legal linchpin for imposing the ‘corporate death penalty,’ Cohen wrote. “Moreover, dissolving the NRA could impinge, at least indirectly, on the free speech and assembly rights of its millions of members. While that alone would not preclude statutory dissolution if circumstances otherwise clearly warranted it, the Court believes it is a relevant factor that counsels against State-imposed dissolution, which should be the last option, not the
However, that doesn’t mean the clouds over the organization have been lifted. The bulk of the AG’s case will be moving forward to trial. And the NRA is unlikely to receive the $50 million it was seeking from Ackerman.
Cohen did not mince words when describing how seriously he views the allegations. He said if the allegations prove to be accurate, they “tell a grim story of greed, self-dealing, and lax financial oversight at the highest levels of the National Rifle Association.” He said the corruption is alleged to be pervasive and unchecked.
“They describe in detail a pattern of exorbitant spending and expense reimbursement for the personal benefit of senior management,” he wrote, “along with conflicts of interest, related party transactions, cover-ups, negligence, and retaliation against dissidents and whistleblowers who dared to investigate or complain, which siphoned millions of dollars away from the NRA’s legitimate operations.”
Though dissolution is no longer a threat, serious consequences remain a strong possibility for NRA leadership. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and other members of leadership could be swept from their positions and saddled with repayment burdens rising into the millions.
“The Attorney General’s Complaint seeks restitution and other monetary relief from four current and former NRA officers (to be repaid to the NRA), as well as their removal from NRA employment and permanent injunctions against serving as officers, directors, or trustees of any not-for-profit or charitable organization incorporated or authorized to conduct business or solicit charitable contributions in New York,” Cohen wrote.
With judges thwarting the NRA’s attempt to escape the AG’s prosecution through bankruptcy and the AG’s attempt to dismantle the whole group, the legal Hail Marys appear to be exhausted. The rest of this case should play out more predictably. Most of the evidence of NRA leadership’s wrongdoing is public at this point.
While the NRA’s lawyers have claimed the group has already fixed the problems, LaPierre and many other members of leadership who were in power during the time corruption is alleged are still in control. They are still doing controversial things, such as taking the group into bankruptcy without board approval and removing dissenting board members from committee positions. It’s difficult to imagine them coming out of the rest of this case still in power.
But that’s impossible to know for sure. And the timeline may be much longer than many people imagine. Even if Justice Cohen rules against NRA leadership in the next few months, that’s unlikely to be the end of the case. All indications to this point are that Wayne LaPierre wants to fight this as far as he possibly can, and the vast majority of the board is willing to foot the bill to do so.
Years of appeal could be ahead for the NRA even if it has to continue to slash programs to keep up with the legal costs–something that’s already led membership to shrink. Even after all the traditional avenues of appeal are exhausted, it’s not impossible the group could pull the same bankruptcy maneuver again. After all, both the bankruptcy judge and the NRA board’s retroactive approval for the move leave that possibility open.
Wherever things go from here, don’t expect this ordeal to end anytime soon.