Hired by the National Rifle Association to bring the force of law against its foes, big-time corporate lawyer William A. Brewer III now finds himself under court scrutiny. According to a new filing, a federal judge in Virginia has ordered Brewer to explain why he did not disclose a $177,000 fine from a previous case when applying for permission to represent the gun group. The Trace first reported Brewer’s possible misrepresentation in a story published yesterday evening.
The court appearance, scheduled for September 14, presents a new headache for the NRA at a moment when the gun group is depending on Brewer to help lead legal battles against the state officials and former corporate partners who’ve left it isolated as a business. Legal analysts say that if the judge finds that Brewer misrepresented himself, he could throw the attorney off the case. Brewer could also face further discipline in the states where he is licensed to practice law.
Lawyer for NRA Did Not Disclose ‘Serious’ Ethics Sanction to Court
Those states do not include Virginia, where the NRA has brought a federal suit against Lockton Companies, the privately held firm that administered NRA-branded liability and property-loss coverage for nearly 20 years until it broke up with the organization amid the implosion of the NRA’s Carry Guard insurance for self-defense shooters. Because Brewer is not a member of the Virginia bar, he had to file what’s known as a pro hac vice application to represent the NRA in the case.
On his application, Brewer affirmed that he had never been reprimanded for his conduct as an attorney. But he had been — harshly. In 2016, Texas District Judge Ruben Reyes fined Brewer $177,000 after he found that a poll the attorney commissioned while he was defense counsel in a wrongful death lawsuit amounted to an improper attempt to influence potential jurors and witnesses. In a letter explaining the sanction, Reyes called Brewer’s conduct “threatening to the integrity of the judicial system.”
Brewer lost an initial bid to have the sanction dropped this past March and is appealing the penalty to the Texas Supreme Court. In statements to The Trace, Brewer’s firm argued that because he’s challenging the sanction, he did not have to disclose it when requesting a waiver to handle the NRA’s case.
Four legal ethicists and attorneys contacted by The Trace found that argument dubious. “This is a serious violation,” said Roy Simon, a law professor at Hofstra University who specializes in ethics. “He should have told the court that he has appealed the sanction and the sanction is stayed until the court rules on the appeal. Saying nothing at all was not permitted.”
Now Brewer will have to justify his decision not to disclose his Texas fine to U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, who is overseeing the Virginia case. Around 5:00 p.m. yesterday, hours after The Trace had contacted both Lockton’s counsel and O’Grady’s office seeking comment on Brewer’s pro hac vice application, the judge issued his order. In it, O’Grady demands that Brewer reconcile his affirmation that he has never been disciplined for his conduct in court with the facts of the sanction levied against him in the Texas wrongful-death suit.
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“Based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law” detailed in the March decision upholding the sanction against Brewer, Judge O’Grady wrote that he “finds it necessary to hold a hearing on this matter to make further inquiry into the accuracy of counsels’ certifications to this Court.”
Brewer’s firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s latest order.