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News and notes on guns in America

After Its Star Lawyer Is Booted, the NRA Shuffles Its Legal Team

The National Rifle Association has turned to one of the most powerful conservative law firms in Washington to advance its lawsuit against a former business partner after its original counsel received an embarrassing dressing-down for an ethical lapse.

The NRA recently hired the law firm Cooper & Kirk in its ongoing suit against Lockton Affinity, the insurance broker that  distributed the gun group’s Carry Guard insurance, court documents filed Thursday show. The attorney originally representing the NRA, William A. Brewer III, was thrown off of the case by a federal judge in Virginia after The Trace reported that he had failed to note a professional sanction in his application to appear on the group’s behalf.

According to a statement from Brewer’s firm, Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, its lawyers will now work as co-counsel alongside attorneys from Cooper & Kirk. Brewer himself is still barred from working on the case.

“The NRA continues to work with Bill Brewer and Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors on many matters, including the case in Virginia, and we are proud to welcome Chuck Cooper and Cooper & Kirk as co-counsel to that legal team,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the NRA.

The NRA originally hired Brewer to take on Lockton after the insurance broker cut ties with the gun group. In February, New York State’s Department of Financial Service found Carry Guard to be in violation of state insurance law. The charges prompted Lockton, which developed, sold, and marketed the program, to sign a consent decree agreeing to no longer work with the gun group. The NRA alleges that the insurance company breached its contract by failing to comply with New York law and terminating the business relationship.

Because he was not a member of the Federal Bar Association in Virginia, Brewer had to submit an application to appear on behalf of the NRA. In his application, Brewer attested that he had never been disciplined for courtroom conduct. But as The Trace reported in August, that was not true: In 2016, a Texas judge fined Brewer $177,000 for attempted manipulation of potential jurors and witnesses in a wrongful death lawsuit. The sanction was upheld this spring by a Texas appellate court, though it is currently suspended as Brewer seeks to have the penalty overturned in Texas Supreme Court.

After The Trace brought the sanction to the attention of District Court Judge Liam O’Grady in Virginia, he removed Brewer from the case. O’Grady said that, had he known of the six-figure fine, he would not have approved Brewer’s application.

On Thursday, two lawyers from Cooper & Kirk submitted applications to appear as counsel in the NRA’s case against Lockton. If their application is accepted, attorneys Charles Cooper and Michael Kirk will represent the gun group as it seeks damages from Lockton.

Lockton helped the NRA develop the Carry Guard insurance program, which covered legal costs and civil liability stemming from self-defense shootings, and administered policies to customers. This February, however, the broker signed a consent decree with New York regulators agreeing not to work with the gun group after the state found that Carry Guard violated insurance laws.

Cooper & Kirk has deep ties to the conservative establishment. Cooper, who served in the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan and was hired as Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s personal lawyer, has worked with the NRA for decades. His firm represented the group’s PAC, the Political Victory Fund, in a 1994 case brought by the Federal Election Commission. The firm has also submitted several amicus briefs on behalf of the NRA in cases challenging laws like Maryland’s ban on assault weapons and federal restrictions on handgun sales to people under 21.

Court records shows that Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors remains the sole counsel representing the NRA in a separate case against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the regulators who originally scrutinized Carry Guard.