NRA Board Member Phil Journey Testifies in Bankruptcy Trial
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NRA Board Member Demanding Probe of Wayne LaPierre Testifies That Bankruptcy Petition Blindsided Him

National Rifle Association board member Phillip Journey, a gun-collecting Wichita judge, testified on Tuesday that the group’s executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre’s decision to file for bankruptcy earlier this year blindsided him. The NRA’s chief financial officer and treasury Craig Spray also expressed being caught by surprise by the action.

The NRA’s Chapter 11 petition suggested that the decision was made in consultation with the board during a Jan. 7 meeting this year, but Journey claimed that this assertion was a fraud upon the court, as the judge claims that he and other board members were not informed about that decision.

The NRA filed a federal bankruptcy petition in Texas earlier this year to avoid a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) potentially threatening to shutter the nearly 150-year-old organization. At the time, the group’s website boasted of being “in its strongest financial condition in years.” The GOP power broker claims that it is “dumping New York” and “utilizing the protection of the bankruptcy court” in order to organize its “legal and regulatory matters in efficient forum.”

Judge Journey said that he was not informed about that action in advance.

“Were you as a board member provided a list of ongoing litigation against the NRA?” Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell asked.

“No,” Journey replied, adding that he was not informed with a list of financial threats against the group either.

Asked if the board passed a resolution authorizing the petition, Journey responded: “None was proposed.”

Since the bankruptcy trial began on April 5, the New York attorney general has tried to establish that LaPierre’s bankruptcy petition should be rejected as filed in “bad faith.” Earlier in the trial, the NRA’s general counsel John Frazier also testified that he did not know it would be filed until that became public. To establish jurisdiction in Texas, LaPierre established a company Sea Girt, LLC, which the attorney general’s office call the NRA chief’s “wholly-owned shell company.”

Craig Spray, the NRA’s CFO, said that he had not heard about the limited liability corporation before the bankruptcy petition.

Though Attorney General James seeks to dissolve the NRA, Journey does not go that far. He wants a federal judge to appoint an examiner to oversee the organization, rather than reject the bankruptcy petition.

Leaving the NRA without protection, the judge claims, could lead the powerful gun lobby to follow a path “almost like the asbestos industry” and “probably die a death by 1,000 cuts.”

The NRA is currently in litigation with its former public relations firm Ackerman McQueen, its ex-president Oliver North, and the attorney general. The gun group’s former heavy hitting donor David Dell’Aquila, a tech company head, proposed a class action lawsuit alleging financial improprieties.

Last week, LaPierre testified for two days about his alleged receipt of gifts that New York regulators claim represent undisclosed conflicts of interest. LaPierre justified his decision to voyage on Hollywood producer Stanton McKenzie’s 108-foot yacht, the Illusions, after the Sandy Hook shooting for “security” reasons, but he also acknowledged taking regular trips to the Bahamas on that vessel for years, starting in 2013.

The NRA chief offered the same rationale for flying exclusively by private charter jet, and he defended his receipt of nearly $300,000 in Italian suits from a Beverly Hills Zegna, which the group’s longtime public relations Ackerman McQueen bought him for television appearances.

Highlights of court-released audio of LaPierre’s testimony can be heard on the Law&Crime podcast “Objections.”

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.