Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Media Watch: Haas vs. Grand Lodge of West Virginia

This entry will be updated with ongoing press reports in the civil trial between the Grand Lodge of West Virginia AF&AM and expelled Past Grand Master Frank Haas.



12/3/2010
Jury to be selected in Masonic law case
This extensive story gives a recap of the background of the case so far.



12/6/2010
Member of Masons says he was wrongly expelled
Testimony began today in Haas vs. GL of WV AF&AM




12/7/2010
Testimony describes tensions within W.Va. Masons
A Kanawha County jury heard more testimony Tuesday about how an internal struggle within the West Virginia branch of the Masons led to the sudden expulsion of two longtime members.



12/8/2010
Expelled Masons leader says meeting was worst time of his life
A former "Most Worshipful Grand Master" of Masons in West Virginia told a Kanawha jury that the meeting during which he was unexpectedly expelled from the organization was the worst 45 minutes of his life.





12/9/2010
Former Masonic grand master denies allegations of racism
A former grand master of the West Virginia branch of the Masons said Thursday in Kanawha Circuit Court that any allegation or insinuation of racism within the organization is "ridiculous." "[That suggestion] makes me feel disgusted," said Charles F. Coleman II, who served as grand master of the state's Grand Lodge between October 2006 and October 2007.

[snip]

On Wednesday, defense lawyers asked Judge Carrie Webster to dismiss Haas' lawsuit based on the state Supreme Court's recent ruling that the state Secondary School Activities Commission, as a private, voluntary organization, had the right to enforce its own rules as it sees fit. The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday reversed Webster, who had granted a temporary restraining order and injunction against the SSAC to prevent it from enforcing suspensions against four South Charleston football players.

The Masons, similar to the SSAC, are a private organization, and with no public policy at issue, how they enforce their own laws should not be up to a court to decide, the motion argues.



12/10/2010
Former Grand Master explains decision to expel Mason

Charles L. Montgomery, of Williamstown, said he asked Frank J. Haas, who was himself a past Grand Master of the state's Grand Lodge, to be honest about his involvement with a website called Masonic Crusade during a 2007 meeting at Haas' home lodge in Wellsburg. When Haas claimed to know nothing about it, Montgomery pulled a pre-written edict expelling Haas from his pocket, effectively excommunicating Haas from the fraternal organization.

"I tried to give [Haas and another Mason] every opportunity to say something, that they were sorry, that they would discontinue that activity [involvement with the Masonic Crusade]," he said.

When they refused -- Montgomery recalled Haas as saying, in reference to the Masonic Crusade, "The dream lives on, and will not die" -- Montgomery felt he had no choice but to kick them out of the Masons.

[snip]

As Coleman had on Thursday, Montgomery disputed any suggestion that the West Virginia branch of the Masons is prejudiced against blacks.

"Nowhere in Masonry do we discriminate," he said. He conceded that the state branch, which dates back to 1866, had never had a black member until after Haas filed his lawsuit in 2008. There are now two black members, he said.

Earlier on Friday, defense lawyers John Tinney, Jack Tinney and Jim Tinney called on Greg Wentzel to testify. Wentzel said that he set up the Masonic Crusade website, and that Haas was unaware of Wentzel's involvement even though the two were part of a group of Masons from around the state who occasionally went out to dinner together and formed a discussion group on the website Yahoo.

"I never discussed [the Masonic Crusade website] with him, no," Wentzel said.



12/14/2010
Judge: Grand Lodge did not comply with its own rules

The trial ended today at about 6pm, and deliberations will begin tomorrow morning. Judge Webster gave a summary judgement today that the Grand Lodge did breach its contract, and did not follow its own rules in the way Haas was expelled. The outcome of that will be given by the judge at the end with the other decisions. The jury will deliberate on compensatory damages concerning defamation of Haas, and about four other items.



12/14/2010
Masons broke own rules, lawyer argues in closing

If the West Virginia branch of the Masons had followed its own rules regarding due process, an administrative law judge expelled from the fraternal organization would not have had to sue the group, his lawyer said Tuesday.

But Charles F. Coleman II and Charles L. Montgomery, the two men who succeeded Frank J. Haas as Grand Master of the state's Grand Lodge, were so upset with Haas for trying to enact progressive reforms that they summarily expelled him, said Haas' attorney Bob Allen during his closing argument in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Defense attorney Jack Tinney maintained that Haas was wrongly seeking monetary compensation for an internal dispute within a private, voluntary organization after he was ousted for failing to follow Masonic laws...



12/16/2010
Jury sides with Grand Lodge in Mason expulsion case

A Kanawha County jury sided Wednesday with the Grand Lodge of the West Virginia branch of the Masons against a former grand master who sued after he was expelled from the group, claiming the organization had violated its own rules.

The jury declined to award Frank J. Haas, an administrative law judge from Wellsburg, any damages, even though Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster ruled that the Masons breached its contract with Haas.

The jury also decided that the state's Grand Lodge and past Grand Masters Charles F. Coleman II and Charles L. Montgomery had not defamed Haas, placed him in a false light, or committed outrageous conduct toward Haas, who was also a past grand master...



12/16/2010
Jury finds Masons not guilty in case

A jury has determined that the Masons did not defame or damage a former Grand Worshipful Master when they threw him out of the organization.

Frank Haas, 53, of Wellsburg filed a lawsuit against the Grand Lodge in Charleston and two members of the Masons hierarchy - Charlie Montgomery and Charles Coleman. Those two men succeeded Haas as state leader of the men's brotherhood.

Haas claimed he suffered emotional distress after being unexpectedly expelled as a member in 2006, shortly after his term ended. He said other Mason leaders were unhappy that he attempted to change some of the group's restrictions on race, age and disabilities.

But after more than a week of testimony from both sides, the jury decided against Haas on all counts...

10 comments:

Cliff said...

thank you for keeping us up to date WB Chris.

Wayfaring Man said...

Interesting that the Football Association case came back right away reversing the Judge on a similar theory. GL lawyers must be very hopeful about that.

Coincidence? Or more grist for conspiracy mill?

Chris Hodapp said...

I find it interesting that the biggest GL argument appears to be that the Court can't force us to follow our own rules...

Jim Dillman said...

There is something else to take note of here that is ancillary to the case at hand, but could ultimately effect every Masonic lodge in the country. What if the court rules that they have jurisdiction because the Grand Lodge of West Virginia is discriminatory? Discrimination isn't the basis of this lawsuit, but it is one of the points of contention in the plaintiff's case and the topic has arisen in cross-examination. This is a question that only a lawyer could probably answer. Can the West Virginia indeed claim jurisdiction if they determine the GL of WV is discriminatory? If so, what happens to their tax-exempt status and that of every other lodge in the entire USA?

Many lodges around the country already are finding themselves caught up in disputes over tax-exempt status. This could possibly give the government even more ammunition for coming after us.

Michael said...

Jim, given that each Grand Lodge is autonomous and that any judgment by a state court in West Virginia is limited to West Virginia, and that there are fifty-one different jurisdictions covering fifty-one different organizations, I think worries about "the government" taking on "Freemasonry" are not on point. As to the point about discrimination, the court would have to determine that Freemasonry in West Virginia is a quasi-public institution, rather than purely private. That's unlikely. As always, I could easily be wrong, and would welcome more information from anyone more current on case law than I am

Warbard said...

Jim, the courts have already ruled in a decisions here in Virginia that compelled our Grand Lodge to accept their findings; GLofWV is finding any excuse not to move into the 21st century. As for the Government, they should come after us if we are not living in the best way possible. I promise you that if any Grand Jurisdiction was doing right by our own Masonic principles, then no government in the US would see a need to intercede.

Jim Dillman said...

Two things. The Boy Scouts, also a private organization, were found guilty of discrimination several years ago when they were ultimately forced to accept gay scout leaders. I recognize that this isn't a discrimination suit and I may be worrying needlessly- not that I'm under any pretense that there isn't discrimination in Freemasonry. I'm also concerned that this could lead to lawsuits in other jurisdictions. I'd much rather see us address our problems internally rather than in the courts.

Michael said...

Jim, the Supreme Court ruled, in Dale vs. BSA, exactly the opposite of what you said. I disagree with that ruling, but it's the law.

Jim Dillman said...

Thanks. I stand corrected. For some reason I remembered it going the other way. That's what I get for relying on my memory instead of looking it up.

Robert said...

If one is so inclined, there is a way to help Brother Haas defray his legal expenses by making a donation to a fund. There is a link to the fundraising site at http://masonic-crusade.com, or the direct link to the fundraiser is: https://www.giveforward.com/donate/index/19615.