NRA Doesn’t Have to Pay Oliver North Legal Bills, Judge Says

Erik Larson

(Bloomberg) -- The National Rifle Association won’t have to pay Oliver North’s legal bills, a New York judge ruled, after North was ousted as its president amid allegations of financial malfeasance and an attempted leadership coup.

Justice Joel Cohen said Thursday that the gun rights group isn’t required under its internal rules or state bylaws to indemnify North for expenses he’s incurring as a witness in legal matters triggered by the infighting, including a probe of the NRA’s nonprofit status by New York’s attorney general.

The turmoil began when North alleged that Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s longtime leader and public face, used the NRA to enrich himself, an accusation LaPierre denied. North was accused of trying to overthrow him.

Ruling from the bench, Cohen said the case boiled down to the meaning of a 93-word sentence in the NRA’s bylaws and didn’t hinge on allegations between the parties, including the group’s claim that North acted in bad faith when he began looking into alleged wrongdoing at the organization.

“No sentence should be 93 words long, but once you wade through it, the meaning is clear,” Cohen said. “Colonel North’s reading would require something close to a blank check, and that’s just not what the bylaw says.”

North’s lawyer, Alexander S. Zolan, declined to comment as he left the courtroom.

Read More: NRA Concerned Oliver North Will Disclose Private Information

William A. Brewer, a lawyer for the NRA, said in an emailed statement that Thursday’s ruling is a “resounding win” for the NRA in its dispute with North. He said North’s push to be reimbursed was “a misguided attempt to deflect from the cold reality: he played a central role in a corrupt scheme that actually caused many of the issues for which he sought indemnification.”

In its suit against North, the NRA claimed he plotted with its former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, to smear LaPierre by leaking details of his spending. North and Ackerman deny the claims. North countersued.

During the hearing, Zolan disputed the NRA’s claim that North had acted in bad faith and accused the organization of retaliating against its former president for discovering potential financial misconduct.

“So what did Mr. North do?” Zolan said to the judge. “He started asking questions. He was doing his duty. He sought an independent audit, he wrote a memorandum of his concerns to counsel. He formed a crisis management committee. What was Mr. LaPierre’s and the NRA’s response? Mr. LaPierre told Mr. North to ‘stay in his lane.’”

North was deposed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a gun control advocate, as part of her investigation of the NRA. The organization lost an earlier lawsuit it filed to let its attorneys participate in the deposition. James has also sued to enforce subpoenas of Ackerman McQueen. The NRA has sued Ackerman over billing.

The case is NRA v. North, 653577/2019, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

(Updates with comment from NRA.)

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