The National Rifle Association was in Manhattan civil court on Thursday for the latest fight in a yearslong legal battle with New York Attorney General Letitia James. James filed a lawsuit in 2020 with the aim of dissolving the pro-Second Amendment group for “years of self-dealing and illegal conduct.”
A judge had denied James’ quest to shut down the organization, but her office was still seeking an independent monitor to oversee its spending.
James accused the NRA and its executives of mismanaging funds for pricey meals, expensive trips and private jet rides while the nonprofit organization — chartered in New York state in 1871 — lost millions of dollars.
As the case nears a trial tentatively planned for the fall, both sides were still arguing over thousands of documents the attorney general’s office has requested, which the NRA claimed might be privileged. Prosecutors claimed the NRA is withholding relevant documents, while the gun rights organization argued that a set of search terms it’s been instructed to use is too broad.
Justice Joel Cohen urged prosecutors and the NRA’s attorneys to come to an agreement before the case reaches a jury.
“Coming up with protocols for search terms is really not that complicated, if there’s even a minimum amount of trust between the parties, which there doesn’t seem to be here,” he said.
NRA attorney Sarah Rogers said separating the necessary documents can be “challenging,” because a search for a certain keyword can turn up a large number of records — some of which are privileged and some of which aren’t.
“We made a good-faith effort,” she said in court.
Assistant Attorney General Monica Connell challenged the NRA’s version of events.
“Frankly, it shouldn’t have been this hard,” she said.
James has been outspoken on her goals to use the attorney general’s office to target the gun industry. On the campaign trail, she pledged to investigate the NRA if elected.
“The NRA is an organ of deadly propaganda masquerading as a charity for public good,” she said in 2018, when she announced her plan to protect New Yorkers from gun violence.
Since taking office, James has sued distributors of so-called ghost guns, which are difficult to trace because they aren’t stamped with serial numbers. She was also part of a successful push last summer requiring credit card companies to create a code for purchases at firearm retailers. Her office is currently defending a state law passed last summer to limit access to concealed carry permits, which is facing a host of lawsuits.
The NRA has questioned James’ motives for filing her suit against the organization and has accused her of bias. The organization has also noted that her office met with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety around the time that it launched its investigation. James’ office claimed that the probe was already underway before the meeting.
Cohen asked both sides to try once again to reach an agreement before the case gets too close to trial.
“The trial would really be undermined if a broad ruling that thousands of privileged documents potentially would just come flowing in,” he said. “It just would create a trial nightmare.”