Pickney's Story from Nettleton Lodge #657 in Jonesboro, Arkansas
Case ID # 16JCV-08-240 CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIVIL DIVISION
THE MOST UN-MASONIC GRAND LODGE JURISDICTION IN AMERICA
This the first of a four part series exposing the illegal, intimidating actions of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas who consistently and illegally expel Master Masons without trials and in selective cases seizes the valuable real estate of the Blue Lodges to which they belong----Part 2: How a few members members of one subordinate Blue Lodge resisted such intimidating tactics and sued the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in Circuit Court in order to save their lodge and prove rightful ownership of all Blue Lodge real estate in Arkansas--- Part 3: Arkansas Grand Lodge’s response to that civil lawsuit and the actions they were forced to take to save face and attempt to hide their illegal acts---Part 4: The decision and Order of the Circuit Court of Craighead County, Civil Division, settling the ongoing question and answer, once and for all, of who are the true and legal owners of all the real estate of the hundreds of Blue Lodges in Arkansas. A decision that is very important to every Master Mason in Arkansas.
PART 1: During the summer of 2007 the members of Nettleton Lodge #657 in Jonesboro, Arkansas became very concerned about specific language in the Grand Lodge Digest of Laws, specifically the language dealing with self-expulsion of a Master Mason for personal reasons. This concern arose in part due to the fact that Grand Lodge officers were using this particular section of the Digest to force many good Masons out of Masonry. Nettleton Lodge members believed that to a true Mason the very worst thing that could ever happen from a Masonic standpoint is to become labeled an expelled Mason. It simply didn’t make sense that any Mason would voluntarily place the shameful, lifelong label of “expelled Mason” before his otherwise honorable and decent name. The fraternity already had an honorable way for a Mason to disassociate himself from the fraternity if he so desired----this is known as a dimit and every Master Mason is well aware of it. Nettleton Lodge wondered when and why a majority of good Masons in Arkansas would vote to add such disgraceful language to their Digest of Lasw.
On August 21, 2007 Nettleton Lodge members voted unanimously to submit a Resolution to the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, to be voted on by the entire membership at the February, 2008 Grand Lodge Annual Communication, a resolution that would remove the “self-expel for personal reasons” language from the Grand Lodge Digest of Laws. On January 17, 2008 Past Worshipful Master Melvin Pickney and Secretary Darrell Pickney of Nettleton Lodge #657 traveled to the Grand Lodge offices on Scott Street in Little Rock for the purpose of researching the self-expulsion language to try and determine why such language was ever adopted by the fraternity. What they discovered through their research was alarming. They discovered that ten years earlier, in 1997, some “self-expel” language had indeed been legally voted into the Digest. But that language mirrored Texas Grand Lodge language and dealt only with a Mason who had committed un-masonic conduct and preferred self- expulsion over expulsion by a trial. This limited language made some sense. But there was no record of a vote on “self-expulsion for personal reasons” anywhere to be found. This ludicrous language had been added four years later, in 2001, and appeared to have been added illegally without a vote of the membership. The Grand Master and Grand Secretary James Weatherall were asked for an explanation as to how this new language was added to the Digest without a vote. Neither one would respond to the question. On January 18, Darrell Pickney followed up with an e-mail to Grand Secretary Weatherall again questioning the legality of the four words “or for personal reason” that had been added to the Digest. When Mr. Pickney received no response to his e-mail he notified Mr. Weatherall by telephone that the apparent illegal addition to the Digest of Laws would be made known to the entire membership at the February meeting. Darrell Pickney and Melvin Pickney were told in the days that followed that their meddling in Grand Lodge business was the beginning of the end of their Masonic careers.
At the Grand Lodge Communication on February 7, 2008 an unannounced item on the agenda was the arrest of the Charter of Nettleton Lodge #657. Until that time there had been no allegations of misconduct by the Lodge and no investigation of misconduct by the Grand Lodge. At the session Grand Master Sheffield proposed that a committee be assigned to investigate Nettleton Lodge and report back a full year later at the 2009 Grand Lodge Communication. The very next order of business was to disallow the reading of the Nettleton Lodge resolution involving “expulsion for personal reasons” due to the Grand Lodge’s position that Nettleton Lodge was no longer a Lodge and therefore could not submit a Resolution. The whole ordeal was an obvious attempt by the Grand Lodge to protect their illegal actions and were willing to destroy one of their most active and successful Blue Lodge in their cover-up. Later that day newly elected Grand Master James Graham notified the ladies of the Eastern Star to remove their personal belongings from Nettleton Lodge as he was going to padlock the building.
On February 10th the officers of Nettleton Lodge met and discussed the Grand Lodge’s authority to arrest a Charter if there were no just cause and voted unanimously to obtain legal counsel. Worshipful Master Jerry Smith suggested that the local Lodge officers should surrender the Charter if ordered to do so by the Grand Master and he also directed all Nettleton Lodge officers to protect the building and assets of the Nettleton Lodge members and not relinquish ownership to the Grand Lodge.
On February 15 Darrell Pickney received a call from Grand Master Graham ordering him to meet District Deputy Gerald Hoggard at the Lodge and surrender the Lodge Charter. Mr. Pickney met Mr. Hoggard and personally surrendered the charter to him. Mr. Hoggard then demanded that Mr. Pickney turn over the keys to the building because he said it was now the property of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Mr. Pickney disagreed with his analysis of ownership, and based on the earlier order of his Worshipful Master, he refused to turn over his key to the building. On February 27 Grand Master Graham sent letters of expulsion to Worshipful Master Jerry Smith, Junior Deacon Robert Stewart, Treasurer James Newell and Secretary Darrell Pickney. He also sent a suspension letter to Past Worshipful Master Melvin Pickney. The expulsions and suspension were initiated without prior notice, without any charges being filed and without the due process of a Masonic trial.
On March 4th Worshipful Master Jerry Smith held a special called meeting of the members of Nettleton Lodge to discuss everything that had happened since the February Grand Lodge Communication and the members present voted unanimously for the officers to do whatever necessary to retain control of the property, including the hiring and paying of an attorney from the Lodge treasury.
On March 27th Grand Lodge officials enticed Senior Warden Herbert Ogles to surrender his key to Nettleton Lodge and the locks were changed on the building, effectively causing Nettleton Lodge to lose control of the property and allowing Grand Lodge to take full control of the property. (The reason for the sellout by Ogles will be clearly revealed in Part 2). On March 31, 2008 a Grand Lodge attorney notified the Nettleton Lodge attorney by letter that all Nettleton Lodge property, both real and personal, was now owned by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.
This is the second of a four part series exposing the illegal, intimidating actions of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas who consistently and illegally expel Master Masons without trials and in selective cases seize the valuable real estate of the Blue Lodges to which the illegally expelled Masons belong.
Part 2: How a few members of one subordinate Blue Lodge resisted the intimidating tactics and sued the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in Circuit Court in order to save their lodge and prove rightful ownerships of all Blue Lodge real estate in Arkansas.
On or about March 27, 2008 two Grand Lodge officers, Gerald Hoggard and Ronnie Hedge, gained access to the Nettleton Lodge building and changed the locks on all entry doors of the building, or caused them to be changed. In a letter dated March 31, 2008 an attorney, William Trice, representing the Grand Lodge, stated in a letter to the attorney of Nettleton Lodge #657 that all Nettleton Lodge property, both real and personal, was now the property of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.
“No Trespassing” signs that had been posted since February 16th by local Lodge officers were taken down and replaced by signs that read, “No Trespassing by Order of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas”. Local lodge officers were also notified that their Nettleton Lodge bank accounts had been seized and were now in the control of the Grand Lodge.
On April 2, 2008 at 4:30 P.M. Nettleton Lodge #657 filed the following suit against the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and the two Grand Lodge officers who had trespassed and seized the local lodge property.
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CRAIGHEAD COUNTY
NETTLETON LODGE: JERRY SMITH
WORSHIPFUL MASTER; and DARRELL
PICKNEY, SECRETARY PLAINTIFFS
V. NO.; CIV-2008-0240
GERALD HOGGARD; RONNIE HEDGE; THE MOST
WORSHIPFUL GRAND LODGE FREE AND ACCEPTED
MASONS OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS and
ITS MASONIC JURISDICTION DEFENDANTS
COMPLAINT, IN EJECTMENT, AND FOR TRESPASS AND CONVERSION
An 11 page, 31 paragraph lawsuit, including exhibits of Quitclaim and Warranty Deeds all in the name of Nettleton Lodge #657 certainly got the attention of the unMasonic officers of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.
Part 3: On April 4, 2008, just two short days after the filing of the lawsuit, Grandmaster James Graham traveled from Little Rock to Jonesboro and met secretly with Herbert Ogles and a handful of other Masons. The Grandmaster granted Ogles a special dispensation, allowing him to talk to the expelled Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, to try and persuade them to withdraw the lawsuit. But Nettleton Lodge members were prepared to defend their right of ownership.
On April 30, 2008 the Grand Lodge filed a response to the Nettleton Lodge lawsuit, along with a counter-suit of their own in an effort to put pressure on Nettleton Lodge. Grandmaster began communicating with some members of Nettleton Lodge indicating he was willing to restore the Charter if the lawsuit was dropped. Nettleton Lodge held firm with the lawsuit because of its importance to every lodge in Arkansas to set a legal precedent regarding ownership.
By early June the Grandmaster had instructed Ogles to try to find Nettleton Lodge members who would accept officers positions so the Lodge could be reopened
Part 3: Arkansas Grand Lodge’s response to a civil lawsuit and the actions they were forced to take to save face and attempt to hide their illegal acts:
On April 4, 2008, just two short days after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nettleton Lodge by the illegally expelled officers of Nettleton Lodge, Grandmaster James Graham traveled from Little Rock to Jonesboro and met secretly with Herbert Ogles. The Grandmaster granted Ogles a special dispensation, granting him permission to talk to the wrongly expelled officers, to try and persuade them to withdraw the lawsuit. But the Plaintiffs and other Nettleton Lodge members were prepared and determined to defend their right of ownership to the Lodge property and refused to withdraw the suit.
On April 30, 2008 the Grand Lodge filed a response to the Nettleton Lodge lawsuit, along with a counter-suit of their own in an effort to put pressure on the Plaintiffs. Grandmaster Graham continued his communicating with Ogles and a few handpicked members of Nettleton Lodge, indicating he was willing to restore the Charter if the lawsuit was dropped. However, the Plaintiffs and the true Masons of Nettleton Lodge held firm with the suit because of its importance to every lodge in Arkansas in setting a legal precedent regarding local lodge ownership.
Realizing they were going to be unsuccessful in getting the lawsuit withdrawn, Grand Lodge officers then began secret negotiations with certain Nettleton Lodge members in an effort to try to convince them to accept their illegally arrested charter and reopen the lodge. In early June the Grandmaster instructed Ogles to try to find any Nettleton Lodge members who would be willing to accept officers’ positions in the lodge so the Lodge could be reopened as quickly as possible. The lawsuit was moving forward and the Grand Lodge knew they would lose and had every reason to fear the serious repercussions of such a loss.
At the Grand Lodge Communication in February, 2008 the Grand Lodge had contended they had a legal vote of the entire membership to arrest the charter of Nettleton Lodge for a full year, appoint an Investigative Committee to investigate phantom charges against the lodge, charges that had never been filed, and report their findings to the delegates at the 2009 Grand Communication meeting. Now, just a few short months later Grand Lodge was desperately trying to get the charter back in its rightful place and get Nettleton Lodge reopened, all due to the fear of the lawsuit.
Grandmaster Graham and other Grand Lodge officers traveled to Jonesboro in late June and held a secret installation of new officers for Nettleton Lodge. The general membership was not notified of the installation meeting and the new local officers were installed without being elected by their lodge. The entire process was a “sham’ but was the only way Grand Lodge could get the charter back in its rightful place before the legal court system forced them to do it. Herbert Ogles was installed as the unelected Worshipful Master of Nettleton Lodge.
But the lawsuit continued through the legal process. The Plaintiffs were NETTLETON LODGE; JERRY SMITH, WORSHIPFUL MASTER; DARRELL PICKNEY, SECRETARY; and ROBERT STEWART, JUNIOR DEACON. The Defendants were GERALD HOGGARD; RONNIE HEDGE; THE MOST WORSHIPFUL GRAND LODGE FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS and ITS MASONIC JURISDICTION. The case was headed for a jury trial when the Grand Lodge discovered a way to possibly save face. They convinced an intervenor and third party plaintiff to join the lawsuit. The third party plaintiff was represented by the Grand Lodge defendant’s attorney. The third party plaintiff was none other than Herbert Ogles, the illegally appointed Worshipful Master of Nettleton Lodge by Defendant Grand Lodge. The case was headed for trial with the Grand Lodge attorney representing both the Defendants and the Third Party Plaintiff.
Part 4: The decision and Order of the Circuit Court of Craighead County, Civil Division, settling the ongoing arguments, once and for all, who are the true and legal owners of the hundreds of Blue Lodges in Arkansas. A decision that is very important to every Master Mason and to every subordinate lodge in Arkansas. Rumors had circulated around many of the subordinate lodges in Arkansas since as early as the year 2000 that it was a goal of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas to consolidate all lodges within each county into one large lodge and confiscate the remaining properties. This would reduce the number of subordinate lodges from several hundred down to seventy-five. During the early years of 2000 Grand Lodge officers made no secret of the fact that the Grand Lodge was in financial trouble and would cease to exist in just a matter of years if new sources of revenue did not materialize. A few lodges had been taken over by the Grand Lodge prior to Nettleton Lodge but none had taken legal action to preserve their ownership rights. Nettleton Lodge changed all of that by filing suit in Circuit Court of Craighead County. As stated earlier in Part 3 of this documentary the Lodge’s charter had been unfairly arrested by order of the Grand Lodge thereby Nettleton Lodge was no longer able to legally identify themselves as Nettleton Lodge #657.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nettleton Lodge, without the #657 in the title. The Plaintiffs were NETTLETON LODGE; JERRY SMITH, WORSHIPFUL MASTER; DARRELL PICKNEY, SECRETARY; and ROBERT STEWART, JUNIOR DEACON. The lawsuit was authorized by a unanimous vote of the membership. Once it became obvious to the Grand Lodge during litigation that the lawsuit would not be dropped and they had no chance of winning they devised an interesting scheme. They promptly returned the Charter and restored Nettleton Lodge #657. They hand-picked a new Worshipful Master and other officers without a vote of the membership. Then they represented the hand-picked Worshipful Master by injecting him into the lawsuit as a third party Plaintiff. The original Plaintiffs had previously filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in favor of Nettleton Lodge. An identical motion was filed on behalf of the third party Plaintiff in the name of Nettleton Lodge #657. A motion for Summary Judgment was also filed by the defendants, Gerald Hoggard, Ronnie Hedge, and the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Arkansas claiming ownership of the property.
During the hearing the Plaintiffs testified that the property belonged to all the members of the Lodge and now that the charter had been rightfully restored, the rightful owners of the property were the members of Nettleton Lodge #657. Below is the Order as handed down by the Court.
On this 10th day of July, 2009, comes on for hearing the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as filed by the Plaintiff Nettleton Lodge, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as filed by the Intervenors, Nettleton Lodge #657 of Free and Accepted Masons, Nettleton, Arkansas, and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as filed by the Defendants, Gerald Hoggard, Ronnie Hedge, and the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Arkansas. Mark Mayfield appeared together on behalf of the Plaintiffs and William H. Trice III appeared together on behalf of the Intervenors and Defendants. After review of the briefs, hearing the arguments of counsels and all other matters properly before the Court, the Court finds as follows:
1. The Plaintiffs, Nettleton Lodge by their Complaint and Amended Complaint, sought an action for ejectment and trespass against the Defendants.
2. The Plaintiffs, by their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, have sought an Order of this Court quieting title to the property in question in favor of Nettleton Lodge.
3. The Intervenors, Nettleton Lodge #657 Free and Accepted Masons, by their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, have sought an Order quieting title to the property in Nettleton Lodge #657 Free and Accepted Masons.
4. The Court finds that all current deeds to the property in question are titled in Trustees of Nettleton Lodge #657 Free and Accepted Masons, Nettleton, Arkansas and their successors, and that title should be quieted in favor of that entity, as requested by Plaintiffs and to the extent that same is requested by the Intervenor.
5. The Court finds that the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be GRANTED, that the Defendant’s and Intervenor’s Motions for Partial Summary Judgment should be DENIED.
IT BE, AND IS HEREBY CONSIDERED, ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the Plaintiffs’ motion is GRANTED and the Defendant’s and Intervenor’s motions are DENIED.
That title to the real property in question described as:
Lots 2 and 3 of Kiech’s Addition to the Town of Nettleton, Arkansas, being a part of the West half of the Northeast Quarter of Section 27, Township 14 North, Range 4 East.
shall be quieted in the Trustees of Nettleton Lodge #657 Free and Accepted Masons, Nettleton, Arkansas and their successors, as requested by the Plaintiffs and to the extent that same as requested by Intervenors; and all other Motions for Partial Summary Judgment are DENIED and all other claims and defenses, including, but not limited to, the right to act on behalf of the local Lodge are reserved.
SO ORDERED this this 29th day of July, 2009.
Signed: Honorable Randy F. Philhours
To every Master Mason in Arkansas----if the local lodge purchased your property, if it pays for its upkeep, and if the deed is in the name of the local lodge, then you own the property in the eyes of the law. Nothing that Grand Lodge says can ever change that.