The podium at the 2024 NRA Annual Meeting
The podium at the 2024 NRA Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

NRA Board Member Asks New York Judge to Remove Group’s President, Law Firm

A key player in the internal fight for control over the NRA wants the judge in the group’s New York civil corruption case to let him make his case separate from the organization and the Attorney General.

Phillip Journey asked Judge Joel Cohen to let him intervene in the case over the holiday weekend. The request comes just weeks after reformers, backed by Journey, took over most of the NRA’s leadership positions. It also comes mere days before the second phase of the trial is set to begin.

“Under the current set of circumstances without dramatic change the NRA’s survival is doubtful,” Journey, who a jury admonished the NRA for failing to protect after he blew the whistle on financial impropriety, wrote in his email to the judge. “This Court with the orders it chooses to make will likely determine whether it survives.”

Journey’s intervention attempt escalates the internal fight over the future of the nation’s largest gun-rights group. It may also reveal some cracks in the reform effort that Journey has been at the forefront of over the past several years. While several other board members joined Journey’s unsuccessful effort to intervene in the NRA’s failed federal bankruptcy filing back in 2020, he was alone in asking the judge to allow him into the New York case.

Journey supported the slate of leadership candidates that ran against those put up by the board’s nominating committee. Three of those candidates, including new CEO Doug Hamlin, won top leadership positions in that election. Journey said in his letter that he’d given new leadership “the benefit of the doubt,” but “they proved unworthy of that deference.”

His primary complaint related to how NRA President Bob Barr, who beat out his reformer opponent, has handled the appointment of newly-elected reformer board members to board committees.

“It is my understanding that President Robert Barr has refused to assign any of the ‘four for reform’ to a committee and he has stated they would be assigned after the trial in this Court,” Journey wrote. “It seems clear he intends to reward or punish those he sees as friend or foe.”

He further accused Barr and the NRA’s outside law firm, Brewer Attorneys and Counselors (BAC), of trying to keep reformers off of key committees. He said former leadership was attempting to maintain control over the group and its legal strategy, mainly through the board’s Special Litigation Committee (SLC).

“As someone who knows who voted with the ‘Four for Reform’ and who did not, it is clear from the makeup of the committees that they are using the President’s power to stack the Ethics and Hearings Committees with their allies and supporters,” Journey wrote. “The reality is that those who lost the elections are still in control of the SLC and therefore the BAC. Neither the Executive Vice President, the 2 Vice-Presidents nor the Board have a say in this case.”

The NRA vehemently denied Journey’s specific accusations in a letter sent by BAC to Judge Cohen. Barr said Journey was “operating in a way that is hostile to the NRA and its members” in a statement to The Reload. In an email co-signed by reformers First Vice President Bill Bachenberg and Second Vice President Mark Vaughan, Barr disputed Journey’s claim about control of the SLC.

“This motion makes false claims about the NRA’s leadership, including that recently elected officers ‘have no say’ in the case,” the trio said in the email obtained by The Reload. “This is wrong, and we write jointly to say so. All three of us disagree with the claims in this motion and the decision by a Board member to file it. The NRA will oppose it.”

In its filing, BAC also argued Journey’s filing came too late in the process to be allowed. It said he didn’t have standing to intervene either.

“Journey cannot ‘pursu[e] any remedy’ under N-PCL § 715-b because the statute does not create a private right of action and instead authorizes only a suit by the NYAG,” the law firm argued.

The firm also cited Journey’s comments during a recent interview on The Weekly Reload Podcast, noting he praised Hamlin in particular.

“Journey did an extended podcast interview on May 27, 2024 where he agreed that he was ‘pretty happy with the outcome of’ the recent Board elections. Journey also expressed support for new NRA Executive Vice President/CEO Doug Hamlin, calling him a ‘good manager’ who can ‘hit the ground running’ and is ‘motivated to’ do a good job.” BAC’s letter said.

Journey accused BAC of intentionally leading the NRA into failed legal strategies. He asked Judge Cohen to remove them and forget them to repay the NRA for legal fees, which have totaled more than $100 million.

“As a result of their actions, BAC is an adverse party to me, orchestrating and participating in the violation of 715b,” he wrote. “They should be enjoined from further representation of the National Rifle Association. They should be required to disgorge the fees taken in violation of Texas law (it controls their engagement) for legal strategies they advised their client to take while knowing they would fail.”

BAC denied that claim and told Judge Cohen, “Journey’s personal animus towards the NRA’s chosen attorneys does not provide a proper basis for barring the NRA from being represented by its chosen counsel.” Journey also directed his anger at the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D.), who is prosecuting the civil case against the NRA but hasn’t pursued a cause of action on behalf of Journey over the group’s retaliation against him for whistleblowing. He accused BAC and the NYAG of “harassing” him by intentionally scheduling meetings and depositions on days that conflict with his work as a family law judge in Kansas.

“The unfettered reality is that the BAC, the NYAG, and the old power structure all benefit from the current circumstances,” Journey wrote. “That’s almost everyone’s benefit but the membership.”

He accused James of wanting the NRA to fail and alluded to her 2018 comments to Ebony Magazine, declaring the gun-rights group a “terrorist organization.”

“The NYAG appears to have no desire to stop the continued violation of Sect. 715b, nor aid the survival of the NRA regardless of her statutory duty to protect and recover member assets,” Journey wrote. “In her view, perhaps we are still terrorists and there is no harm in allowing the organization to unravel.”

The NYAG’s office declined to comment on Journey’s letter. However, it did file a plan for a court-appointed independent consultant to oversee the NRA’s operations should Judge Cohen side with it during the second phase of the trial. That plan includes some of the changes reformers like Journey have been requesting for years, including a paired-down board and term limits as well as increased financial transparency for rank-and-file members.

Still, Journey advised Judge Cohen to act quickly. He warned that “the NRA is in peril” and said, “solvency is tenuous.”

“As it now appears, several members of the Board of Directors intend to continue in their pattern of abusive governance of the NRA,” he wrote. “In that process should they regain power they will destroy the NRA as fundraising will collapse.”

The second phase of the NRA’s civil trial will begin on July 15th.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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