WESTMINSTER -- When Henry Hook lost his lifetime membership in the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 four years ago, he was banned from a group he had been a part of since 1939.
He was banned, the company's executive committee said, because its members believed that the 74-year-old had stolen money during a Friday night bingo game.
Hook asserts he wasn't notified of the membership meeting in which he was formally dismissed from the company and sued in 1988, citing constitutional grounds and seeking reinstatement in the company and more than $350,000 in damages.
But in a settlement worked out between the Green Street man and the company yesterday morning in Carroll Circuit Court, Hook will have a chance to formally refute the theft charges and to lobby the station's 125 members for reinstatement.
The theft allegations were "knowingly false and made with reckless disregard for the truth," holding Hook "up to public ridicule, scorn, dishonor and embarrassment," the suit said.
Hook, who was concealing with a pillow medical equipment he was required to wear, was seen by several women at the game placing something under the pillow.
While no formal criminal charges were brought against Hook, the women's observations were enough to persuade the company to terminate Hook's membership. Hook's attorney insists that what the women saw were merely crumpled copies of off-color jokes.
In addition to losing membership in an organization he had been a part of for nearly 50 years, Hook also was forced to vacate a term as president of the Carroll County Fire Police because of the termination.
The settlement calls for a general membership meeting of the fire company on Monday, at which time all 125 members will be able to question Hook on the theft allegations. Hook will be allowed to establish a defense, calling witnesses and questioning the women who brought the allegations.
"What the lawsuit is all about is irrelevant right now," said Roger N. Powell, the fire company's Baltimore attorney. "He will have a chance to defend himself, and if the company wants to terminate him, they can."
Taking issue with one of the basic claims of the lawsuit, Powell said that Hook all along gave written and oral consent to the fire company's executive committee to make the termination decision.
The settlement calls for both parties to sign agreements binding them to the membership's decision. And, after Monday night's meeting, the lawsuit will be closed.
Hook could not be reached for comment after the settlement, but his attorney said Hook looks forward to having a chance to defend himself against the allegations.
"He had been a member for many, many years, and the charges were devastating," said Stephen P. Bourexis, the Westminster attorney representing Hook. "He had a lifetime membership and, suddenly, he's no longer a member."
The meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at the company's East Main Street fire hall, will not be open to the public and will be conducted under the fire company's rules.
The attorneys will be present, but will speak to the members only if asked to do so.
No damages will be awarded to Hook, and both parties are responsible for their own legal fees, according to the settlement.