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Freemasonry Watch

Defendants in Michigan Shrine Temple lawsuit continue to argue venue issue despite judge's ruling

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MLive.com - Michigan

Defendants in Shrine Temple lawsuit continue to argue venue issue despite judge's ruling

July 10, 2013

Mark Tower

logo for the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Shriners

The logo for the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, known commonly as "Shriners." File | MLive.com
SAGINAW, MI — The defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by the Clio-based Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association are not giving up the fight for a change of venue in the case.

The Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association filed the lawsuit against Nicholas Singelis II and Craig H. Hatch on March 10 in Saginaw County Circuit Court.

Singelis previously served as the organization's chief of staff and Hatch is a former potentate, or lead officer, of the organization.

In the lawsuit, the Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association alleges Singelis and Hatch together embezzled and mishandled association funds. The association is asking the court to award a judgment equal to three times the amount allegedly embezzled, according to court documents.

Both Singelis and Hatch, in court documents responding to the complaint, deny the allegations.

Two months after the lawsuit was filed, Singelis' attorney filed a motion to change the venue to Genesee County, arguing that Saginaw County is not the appropriate jurisdiction for the case.

•Change of venue motion

Saginaw County Circuit Judge James T. Borchard on June 25 issued an order denying the change of venue request.

The judge's decision is called a "palpable error," in a motion for reconsideration filed July 2 by attorneys for both Hatch and Singelis. That motion, which requests the judge correct the alleged error by transferring the case to Genesee County, claims the Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association "misled" the court in its arguments for the case to remain in Saginaw County.

•Defendants' motions for reconsideration of stay pending appeal

According to the motion for reconsideration, the case centers around a "consulting services contract" that existed between Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association and Singelis' company Widow's Son Consulting LLC. Since Genesee County is where Singelis lives and where his business is based, attorneys for Singelis and Hatch argue in the change of venue motion that Genesee County is the proper venue for the case.

In a May 16 court document filed by Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association in answer to Singelis' original change of venue motion, the organization argues that the lawsuit concerns "substantial business" conducted by Singelis and Hatch inside Saginaw County.

•Shrine Temple's answer to change of venue motion

That document goes on to claim that Singelis and Hatch "caused the removal and liquidation" of investment accounts held by Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association at a Merrill Lynch office located in Saginaw County. According to the document filed by Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association, that action was the "original injury from which the alleged conversion and embezzlement flowed."

The attorneys for Singelis and Hatch also filed a second motion on July 2, requesting a stay pending appeal. If the judge decides not to overturn his earlier decision, Singelis and Hatch are requesting the proceedings be paused to allow the change of venue issue to be brought before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Singelis' attorney filed another motion on July 8, requesting permission to file a counterclaim against the Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association, claiming Singelis and his consulting services company "is owed substantial monies for services rendered and incurred expenses rendered" in connection with a consulting services agreement between the association and Singelis' firm, Widow's Son Consulting LLC.

•Read a copy of the consulting services agreement, included in court documents

Judge Borchard is set to hear arguments on all pending motions during a hearing set for 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 15.

A criminal investigation into the allegations of embezzlement contained in the lawsuit is ongoing, according to Saginaw County Prosecutor John McColgan Jr.

The Saginaw County lawsuit is only half of the two-part legal battle involving the local fraternal organization and Singelis.

Singelis, on June 11, filed a civil lawsuit of his own, in which he claims protection under the Michigan Whisleblower Protection Act.

He alleges, in the complaint filed in Genesee County Circuit Court on June 11, that he was terminated from his job as retaliation for threatening to tell "the appropriate governmental authorities" about alleged "illegal sexual activity" during a Nov. 3, 2012, initiation ceremony held at an Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association facility in Vienna Township.

Though a spokesperson for the organization declined to comment on the allegations made by Singelis in his lawsuit, the claim of illegal sexual activity is denied by several members and officers of the Elf Khurafeh Shrine Temple Association.

No date has yet been set for a hearing in the Genesee County lawsuit, according to court records.

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