NRA V. ACKERMAN
ABOUT THE NRA'S CASE
The NRA has filed a number of legal actions against its former advertising agency, Ackerman McQueen (Ackerman), to protect the interest of the Association and its members.
On April 12, 2019, the NRA filed suit against Ackerman and its subsidiary, Mercury Group, Inc. (Mercury). The lawsuit seeks access to “basic business records – including budgets purportedly approved by the NRA, copies of material contracts for which the NRA is purportedly liable, and readily available performance data – all to inform the judgement of its fiduciaries.”
Filed in the Circuit Court for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, the lawsuit notes that the NRA has an undisputed contractual right to examine these documents, — yet Ackerman has rebuffed or ignored the NRA’s requests.
On April 24, 2019, the NRA filed an Amended Complaint, in which it included details regarding Ackerman’s employment of Lt. Col. Oliver North.
According to the filing, for six months, Ackerman refused to provide the NRA with a copy of its employment contract with Lt. Col. North, despite repeated requests. Ultimately, the NRA learned that Ackerman’s contract made Lt. Col. North an employee of Ackerman — rather than a third-party contractor, as represented to the NRA. As such, the filing states that Lt. Col. North owes fiduciary duties to Ackerman.
On May 22, 2019, the NRA filed a second complaint against Ackerman and Mercury to “redress additional, increasingly brazen breaches of duties owned by [Ackerman] to the NRA.”
According to the complaint, over the last year, Ackerman shared snippets of confidential and proprietary materials with third parties, including the news media. These “leaks” were engineered by Ackerman to harm the NRA, the complaint states.
“For decades, the NRA trusted [Ackerman] to shape and disseminate authorized public communications on its behalf,” the NRA states in the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, in a remarkable, material breach of that trust, [Ackerman] undertook a campaign to tarnish and ultimately destroy the public image of the NRA and its senior leadership.”
On August 30, 2019, the NRA filed a lawsuit against Ackerman in Dallas that alleges the agency continues to improperly use the NRA’s brand and properties. According to the NRA, Ackerman continues to use these properties and extol its relationship with the Association likely to mask a cold reality: the NRA believes Ackerman abused the trust of the Association, took benefits to which it was not entitled, and misled NRA leadership about the value and performance of the agency’s services.
On October 25, 2019, the NRA filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. The action alleges that Ackerman breached its fiduciary duties, engaged in fraudulent billing, and failed to maintain adequate books and records — all in an effort to enrich itself at the expense of the NRA and its members.
The NRA believes the allegations reveal a pattern of corruption that included NRATV, a failed media enterprise the agency proposed, managed and sustained through misleading accounts of viewership and promised commercial viability. In the end, the NRA believes NRATV became all ‘smoke and mirrors’ — a vehicle touted by Ackerman for the sole purpose of continuing the flow of millions of dollars of fees, which the agency needed to sustain itself.
The complaint alleges that, at the same time, when questions began to arise about Ackerman’s billing practices and whether it was taking advantage of the considerable discretion it possessed in such matters, the agency stonewalled the inquiry and embarked upon a scorched-earth campaign against all of its perceived adversaries.
On September 14, 2020, the Texas court overruled Ackerman’s attempt to disqualify the NRA’s outside counsel, the Brewer firm. From the first time Ackerman raised the familial issues regarding William A. Brewer III, the NRA acknowledged Mr. Brewer’s request that he would not personally appear at this trial. (Instead, Mr. Brewer’s partners will represent the Association at trial.) Of course, Mr. Brewer will continue to be involved in all other facets of the advocacy.
In connection with other favorable rulings from the Texas court, the NRA will aggressively pursue its claims for breach of fiduciary duty against Ackerman and its subsidiary, Mercury Group. Ackerman will now have to answer the serious allegations regarding its behavior which led to the agency’s termination. These include allegations Ackerman committed fraud, engaged in conspiracy, and breached its contract.
On February 11, 2021, the NRA filed a motion for leave to file a Second Amendment Complaint against Ackerman, Mercury, and individual defendants. The motion was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division.
The NRA seeks to amend its complaint to add a new claim for trademark infringement and to add new allegations uncovered during discovery that are specific to fraud and conspiracy charges against Mercury Group.
As stated in the Second Amended Complaint, "Since the NRA terminated its relationship with AMc in Spring 2019, text messages, emails, and former-employee testimonials obtained through discovery and otherwise have made two things regrettably clear. First, AMc exploited decades of trust in order to siphon assets from the NRA, lining its pockets at the expense of its client and in violation of the law. Second, AMc has gone to outrageous lengths to sustain and conceal its grift, deploying scorched-earth tactics against anyone who scrutinized its activities or spending."
On February 17, 2021, U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish ordered the NRA and AMc into mediation to attempt to reach a settlement of the NRA's false representation and copyright claims.
On September 7, 2021, Judge Fish issued an amended scheduling order. Trial in the case is scheduled to begin on March 7, 2022.
On November 29, 2021, the NRA filed a brief in support of its motion for partial summary judgment on four claims within AMc's Second Amended Counterclaim. By filing the motion, the NRA seeks to streamline the dispute and narrow issues for trial. Namely, the NRA seeks summary judgment on AMc's breach-of-contract counterclaims, fraud claim, conspiracy claim, and declaratory judgment claim.