The New York Attorney General’s office urged a judge on Friday to dismiss the National Rifle Association’s counterclaims seeking to stop a lawsuit seeking the gun group’s dissolution.
Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell said that giving the green light to counterclaims would “set terrible precedent,” allowing the targets of investigations to “harry prosecutors.”
“Ultimately, it would subject law enforcement to counterclaims for fair exercise of their discretion,” Connell argued. “That should not be permitted.”
“It Is the Fraud”
In August 2020, Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit to shut down the NRA for allegedly using the company as a “piggy bank” in violation of charity law. The NRA’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre used the non-profit’s money to fly exclusively on private jet and went on a $300,000 shopping spree for Italian suits at a Beverly Hills Zegna, on the dime of the NRA’s former public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, the attorney general said.
Citing the attorney general’s campaign-trail description of the group as a “terrorist organization,” the NRA claims that the lawsuit is a politically motivated gambit to shut them down because of their message.
Denying that, Connell said that the office has been clear that the NRA’s First Amendment activities are not the subject of this action.
“It is the fraud,” Connell said. “It is the theft. It is the waste.”
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen asked whether he could dismiss a lawsuit explicitly aimed to shut the group down because its political views, Connell immediately replied in the affirmative.
That is not what’s happening in this case, Connell asserted.
As for James’s comments about the NRA, Connell said: “She is allowed to speak as a politician on matters of public concern.”
The NRA’s attorney Svetlana Eisenberg called the enforcement action unsurprising given James’s quoted remarks.
“She told the world that she was going to take down the NRA,” Eisenberg said. “Those were her very words.”
“Trying to Fish Their Way Out”
Fighting for its life, the NRA and LaPierre have launched a scorched earth counteroffensive in multiple jurisdictions, leading to Friday’s oral arguments. The organization countersued in state and federal court in New York, and LaPierre secretly arranged for the group to file an ill-fated bankruptcy petition in Texas, which a judge rejected in an opinion excoriating LaPierre for blindsiding the organization’s top officials.
“What concerns the Court most though is the surreptitious manner in which Mr. LaPierre obtained and exercised authority to file bankruptcy for the NRA,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Harlin Hale wrote in ruling last May. “Excluding so many people from the process of deciding to file for bankruptcy, including the vast majority of the board of directors, the chief financial officer, and the general counsel, is nothing less than shocking.”
In the bankruptcy litigation, LaPierre conceded, but justified, such extravagant expenditures. He testified that he would not fly commercially, and accepted trips on a 108-foot yacht, for safety reasons.
Characterizing the New York counterclaims as a repeat of the Texas litigation, Connell said: “The NRA is trying to fish their way out of this litigation.”
Since the disclosure of such embarrassing secrets, Connell said, the group has reverted to business as usual. Connell added that the case has “nothing to do” with stifling free expression and “everything to do” with protecting the public from fraud and waste.
A little more than one week ago, a different Manhattan judge—Justice Arthur Engoron—rejected a selection prosecution claim by Donald Trump and two of his adult children, which also cited James’s rhetoric when she was running for office to try to stop her investigation. Connell noted that Engoron rejected Trump’s effort, in a ruling that noted that prosecutors do not have to like the targets of their investigation.
The NRA’s attorney tried to draw a distinction between the two cases. She noted that the investigation into Trump was spurred by congressional testimony from his former fixer Michael Cohen.
Citing Cohen’s testimony, Judge Engoron ruled that it would have been a “blatant dereliction of duty” for James not to investigate after hearing allegations that the Trump Organization had been cooking the books. Eisenberg insisted there was no such bombshell testimony that sparked the attorney general probe against the NRA.
Judge Cohen reserved decision, telling the parties that he will rule via a written order.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that a judge found the NRA filed its bankruptcy petition in “bad faith.” The ruling stated that the petition was not filed in good faith, which carries a different legal meaning.
[photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]
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