A Virginia federal judge has prevented prominent Dallas attorney William Brewer III from representing the NRA in a contract dispute with an insurance company after the lawyer failed to disclose to the court that he was sanctioned for ethical violations in Texas.
Brewer, who is not licensed in Virginia, filed a pro hac vice application on June 19 in National Rifle Association v. Lockton seeking approval to make an appearance. In it, Brewer promised that he had “not been reprimanded in any court nor has there been any action in any court pertaining to my conduct or fitness as a member of the bar.”
However, Brewer was hit with a $177,000 sanction in 2016 by 72nd District Court Judge Ruben Reyes of Lubbock, who found the lawyer engaged in an abusive litigation tactic when he commissioned a so-called “push poll” over issues in a case in which Brewer was defending Titeflex, a company accused of manufacturing faulty flexible gas tubing that allegedly caused a deadly house fire.
The practice of conducting a poll aimed at shaping, rather than measuring, opinion is colloquially called “push-polling.”
Brewer has denied that he commissioned the push poll and has long maintained that he did nothing wrong. He argued on appeal that his “jury focus exercise” was ethical because no state law, rule or court decision prevents lawyers from commissioning jury surveys. But Amarillo’s Seventh Court of Appeals shot down Brewer’s argument last March 26, affirming the $177,000 sanction award against him in Brewer v. Lennox Hearth Products. Brewer has since appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
After learning of the Texas ruling, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia called Brewer before the court on Sept. 13 to inquire into the accuracy of his pro hac vice certification in the NRA case.
“These are very serious allegations,” O’Grady said during the hearing, according to a report in The Washington Post. “They’re findings of bad faith.”
Brewer told O’Grady that he did not consider the sanction judgment final because he’s appealed it to the Texas Supreme Court, according to the report. But O’Grady did not accept Brewer’s explanation and declined the lawyer’s request to appear in his court.
“We are disappointed in the decision, but our law firm will continue to represent the NRA in these proceedings,” said Michael J. Collins, a partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors. “This decision has no bearing on the NRA’s claims against Lockton, nor does it impact Mr. Brewer’s involvement in any other proceedings on behalf of the NRA.”
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA, said the organization fully supports Brewer Attorneys & Counselors. “Today’s decision has no bearing on our relationship with Mr. Brewer and his firm – or the advocacy being undertaken to protect the legal and regulatory interests of our organization,” Arulanandam said. “This decision also has no bearing on the NRA’s claims against Lockton or our ongoing efforts to hold the company responsible for its alleged breach of fiduciary duty. The NRA will continue to work with the Brewer firm to aggressively pursue the remedies to which the NRA is entitled.
Ted Lyon, a Dallas lawyer who represents the plaintiffs and who originally pursued sanctions against Brewer, believes O’Grady’s ruling is significant.
“He should have told him about the sanction he got in Lennox,” Lyon said, noting that his law firm sent a letter to the Texas Supreme Court advising them to take judicial notice of Brewer’s hearing in the Virginia case.
“We think what Judge Reyes did was the right thing to do and anyone who tampers with a jury pool should be punished,” Lyon said. “A lawyer shouldn’t practice law that way.”