CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- 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.
Haas, a former family law judge from Wellsburg, sued Coleman, Montgomery and the state Grand Lodge in 2008, alleging that he had been defamed and that they had breached his contract with the Masons by kicking him out without giving him a chance to defend himself.
"In 144 years of Masonry in West Virginia, never has a Mason been expelled in this manner," Allen told the jury.
Haas' reforms, centered on making the Masons more inclusive in terms of race, religion, age and disabilities, were almost immediately set aside by Coleman, his immediate successor, Allen said. Coleman said that irregularities that he and others witnessed during the vote at the group's 2006 annual communication made Haas' changes void under the Masons' constitution.
Allen noted that Haas' agenda, which came to be known as the Wheeling Reforms, had not been voted on again since Coleman issued an edict that set it aside days after he became Grand Master. And no disciplinary action has been taken against a Mason who apparently cast five ballots at once, one of the irregularities cited by Coleman, he said.
In the wake of Coleman's actions, a movement called the Masonic Crusade sprang up, eventually creating a website where posters using pseudonyms wondered why Haas' agenda hadn't been submitted for a revote.
Montgomery, who succeeded Coleman, still faced questions about the issue after he took office, including a tense back-and-forth with Mason Richard Bosely at a meeting following an oyster dinner at Haas' home lodge in Wellsburg on Nov. 5, 2007.
Two weeks later, Montgomery returned to the Wellsburg lodge with typed edicts expelling Haas and Bosely in his pocket. He said he wanted to give both men a chance to apologize and renounce their involvement with the Masonic Crusade before he decided to discipline them.
When Haas initially denied any involvement with the Masonic Crusade, Montgomery confronted him with a copy of an e-mail chain in which Haas had forwarded a link to the splinter group's website.