CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- 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.
Bob Allen, Haas' attorney, said after the verdict was announced that Haas was very disappointed, but accepted the jury's decision.
"We can take a lot of comfort that Mr. Haas took what he felt was the high ground, morally and ethically," Allen said. "I'm confident that he'll be able to move forward, knowing that he did the right thing. If that costs him his membership in Masonry, that costs him his membership in Masonry."
Charleston lawyer John Tinney, who along with his sons Jack and Jim represented the defendants, said they were pleased with the verdict.
"We, on behalf of our clients, are very pleased that the jury listened very carefully to the evidence, gave it mature consideration, and determined that there were no plausible claims against our clients," he said.
Following a six-day trial, the jury deliberated for about five hours on Wednesday before returning its verdict around 3 p.m.
Haas sued Coleman, Montgomery and the Grand Lodge of West Virginia in 2008, months after Montgomery issued an edict expelling Haas from the fraternal organization.
The trial provided a rare window into the centuries-old society, which is not entirely secret, although information about many of the rituals, practices and activities is reserved for members only.
Haas, who served as the state's grand master from October 2005 to October 2006, said that during his tenure, he tried to make West Virginia Masonry more inclusive in terms of nationality, race, disability, age and religion. He said he wanted to bring the organization's policies more in line with federal and state public policy.
Haas' progressive agenda, which came to be known as the Wheeling Reforms, passed at the Masons' annual communication that year in Wheeling. The vote -- in which some members, according to custom, had full votes and some had quarter votes -- resulted in a tie, with Haas casting the tie-breaking vote himself.
Days later, Coleman, who succeeded Haas as grand master, issued an edict setting aside Haas' agenda, citing voting irregularities that he and others had witnessed.The state's Masons became bitterly divided over Haas' efforts, with some supporting the progressive reforms and others approving Coleman's decision to declare the vote unconstitutional and void.