Attorney William A Brewer III.

Attorney William A Brewer III. Credit: Brewer Attorneys & Counselors

In a bitter legal battle with New York State for its very existence, the politically powerful National Rifle Association is relying on a Long Island-raised, Democratic leaning lawyer to defend itself at a time of great upheaval for the gun-rights organization.

William A. Brewer III, 71, grew up in Baldwin (where he worked as a Newsday paperboy), went to St. John’s University as an undergrad, still summers on the East End, is now the NRA’s top attorney fending off a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Letitia James.

In her lawsuit, first filed in 2020, James said the NRA, as a charitable foundation based in New York, should be shut down because of many financial improprieties. The lawsuit alleges that longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre and other officials siphoned money from the group for lavish spending and their personal use.

The case is expected to go to trial Monday in Manhattan. But in a surprise move on Friday afternoon, LaPierre, 74, stepped down as the NRA’s CEO, raising all sorts of questions about the lawsuit and the NRA’s future. In a prepared statement to The Point, Brewer indicated LaPierre will remain part of the lawsuit and that his resignation was not part of some possible last-minute settlement with New York before the trial was scheduled to begin.

“With respect to the NYAG trial, the NRA is prepared and ready,” Brewer told The Point. “ The NRA will defend its governance efforts in support of the freedoms it fights to defend." On Friday, the New York AG’s office, which has long sought LaPierre’s removal, reportedly indicated LaPierre’s resignation was not part of a settlement deal and is prepared to go to trial Monday.

Brewer contends the NRA is being unfairly singled out by James because of its advocacy of gun rights favored by conservatives who are her political opponents — a contention recently rejected by a state Appellate Court, allowing the trial to go forward. Brewer said this legal battle with James — one of several legal challenges faced by the embattled NRA in recent years — has cost more than $10 million in legal expenses.

“The NRA believes this was motivated by James’s [campaign] promise she would go after the NRA if elected,” Brewer said earlier this week in an interview with The Point. He said if the NRA prevails in this case, it will seek to recover legal expenses and damages from the state.

Brewer, a specialist in complex commercial litigation, is used to the hot seat in tough cases. He replaced previous NRA lawyers five years ago as the national gun rights group faced mounting legal troubles. Overall, Brewer’s firm was paid $23.5 million by the NRA for outside legal counsel in 2021 alone, according to the most recent available tax forms filed by the group. The high fees paid to Brewer’s firm have been questioned by some former NRA officials as well as the group’s longtime critics.

With law offices in Manhattan and Dallas, Brewer, who now lives in Connecticut, seems an odd choice to represent the NRA. Federal and state election records show Brewer, a Democrat, has given money in the past to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and locally to former U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice — all advocates for gun regulation opposed by the NRA.

Brewer says he still has many friends and relatives on Long Island. He graduated from the then-Maria Regina Diocesan High School in Uniondale (now known as Kellenberg Memorial) and eventually got his law degree in 1977 from Albany Law School of Union University in Albany.

Despite the damaging publicity for the NRA, Brewer says the group still has 4 million members nationally, including 200,000 in New York State. In September 2023, the Nassau County Friends of NRA held a fundraising dinner at the Coral House in Baldwin (Brewer’s old stomping grounds) and plans another one in the fall. Unless there’s a last minute settlement, the NRA trial is expected to carry on for several weeks.

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