Fraternal society sued by former member over alleged defamation, wrongful expulsion

By Angela Underwood | Apr 20, 2017

CHICAGO — A band of fraternal brothers has been targeted by a former member’s lawsuit accusing members of the fraternal organization of wrongly banning him, smearing his reputation and costing him high legal fees.  

Represented by Ayres Law Offices in Chicago, Jeffery Henson, a member of the Freemasons, Shriners and Scottish Rite, is suing members of the organization known as El Hajj, claiming the group continually schemed against him.

“As the scheme is ongoing Henson fears that the defendant's ongoing defamation of him may also cause future harm,” Henson's lawsuit said.

The three-count lawsuit of defamation and conspiracy to defame details how the plaintiff alleged he was expelled from the order for heresy and then charged for theft of the trademark of El Hajj Chicago Caravanserai No. 1. 

The defendants are represented by attorney Thomas W. Gooch III of Gauthier & Gooch in Wauconda, according to court records. Gooch did not respond to the Cook County Record's requests for comment.

The matter between Henson and El Hajj began in March 2016. According to Henson, he informed the group he served a four-year prison sentence for felonies he committed before becoming a member of the three orders, where he served as social media director, administrator, junior warden and chairman for collective fraternity departments and events.

Hanson claims he was unlawfully barred from group in March 2016 after Mark Ertler, defendant and governing board member of El Hajj, presented hearsay evidence about his 2003 conviction at an organizational meeting. Henson claims each fraternal organization was aware of his past when they admitted him into their society, and furthermore, he was not informed of the meeting in writing as required in the group bylaws.

Also, Henson claimed the defendants were not lawful governing members at the time of his eviction, and according to the suit, they are “individually liable for their actions” against him. Directly after expulsion, Henson claims the group lost the El Hajj trademark, which Henson claims he applied for and attained to protect the symbol from the board’s ineptitude.

Henson was granted the trademark in August 2016, but when pressed, the plaintiff decided to return the emblem rights to the defendants.

Simultaneously, Henson alleged defendant Ertler cost him further additional legal fees when the defendant allegedly meddled in the separate confidential agreement in a lawsuit settled by Henson. That dispute involving Henson, who did contract work for a fraternal brother’s relative, was already resolved when Henson alleges Ertler, who was not acting in his official capacity as a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, interfered. 

Other defendants named as co-conspirators in the suit include Keith Koopman, Philip Johnson, Calvin Tazelaar, Jay Potter, William Morgan, James Brotts, Bob LaSpina, John Wojciechowski, Eric Keating, Carl Graf, John Peter Curielli and El Hajj Chicago Caravanserai No 1.

Henson is seeking compensation for reputation and business injury, as well as future business loss.

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