Oberlin College and its Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo are defending a lawsuit brought by the local Gibson’s Bakery after in incident in which three Oberlin College students were arrested for shoplifting.

Oberlin students launched protests and a boycott of the bakery claiming racial profiling of the students. The college itself cut off business with the bakery, and the lawsuit alleges, assisted in helping organize the protests. The three students eventually pleaded guilty, but that didn’t stop the controversy. The boycott continued even after police released data showing there was no racial profiling in shoplifting arrests at the bakery.

The community rallied around the bakery:


See these posts for extensive details and documentation on the dispute:

These posts detail the legal proceedings and Oberlin’s failed attempt to get part of the case dismissed:

Once it was clear the case would continue in full, Oberlin College asked the court to move the case out of Lorain County, the college’s home county. The motion to transfer venue alleged that negative media coverage had poisoned the jury pool and the college could not get a fair trial:

Despite Defendants’ lack of involvement in the protests, and their concern for Oberlin College and the Lorain County community, the media coverage within Lorain County of this case and the events giving rise to it has been sensationalized and has not been accurate or impartial.

As a result, the jury pool has been poisoned and Defendants Oberlin College and Dr. Meredith Raimondo cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in Lorain County, Ohio.

Accordingly, Defendants respectfully request that this case be transferred without delay to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Oberlin also cited the comment sections of news articles as reflecting the local public mood, though it would be hard to prove how many were by local people, since the Gibson’s case received national media attention.

The initial reporting of the lawsuit swiftly turned the tide of public opinion within Lorain County against Oberlin College and Dr. Raimondo. Readers of local newspapers forcefully declared how they would rule in any trial. For example, the two daily Lorain County newspapers included these disturbing comments:

• “I hope Gibsons wins this lawsuit”;
• “The college, by their breach of contract, has punished Gibsons, . .. have, they punished any of the students involved, or did they just give them a hug?”;
• “Gatta go with a Jury Trial. .. Juries can multiply damages”;
• “They [Plaintiffs] should have asked for a LOT more”;
• “Good!! I hope the owners of the store win and win big-time”;
• “Hope they win … Take down the Clown College”; and
• “Hey Oberlin open up your wallet and dig deep.”

As mentioned in my prior post, I didn’t think Oberlin has much of a chance on the motion:

This all seems weak to me. Any high publicity case anywhere gets a lot of media coverage. It’s a high bar to hurdle to prove the jury pool has been so tainted that a fair trial cannot be had.

A bigger problem, though one that doesn’t require transfer, is that a large number of people in the local community will be excluded. Anyone with personal or family ties to Oberlin will be excluded. So too would anyone who knows the Gibson family or even shopped at the store.

There’s no reason that the remaining jury pool would be legally biased. The socio-economic profile of that remaining pool may not be favorable to Oberlin College, and may not appreciate the accusatory nature of Oberlin’s defense against a business that caught shoplifters. But that doesn’t require a change of venue.

In a ruling posted on the court’s electronic docket, the court denied the motion to transfer:

This all sets up a classic town-gown battle taking place when Oberlin College is under mounting financial pressure due to declining enrollment after a decade of aggressive social justice activism, and also faces a federal court lawsuit from an expelled male student.

So the case is going to go forward in Oberlin College’s home county, a place the college considers hostile territory.


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