Will allow questioning of reporter’s interaction with Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo at protest, including her alleged attempt to prevent photos and handing out flyer accusing Gibson’s of being racist.
We previously covered the lawsuit brought by the local Gibson’s Bakery against Oberlin College and its Dean of Students, Meredith Raimondo.
The lawsuit arises out of accusations by Oberlin College students, allegedly assisted by Raimondo and others at the college, that Gibson’s was racist and engaged in racial profiling after the arrest of three black Oberlin College students for shoplifting. Protests outside Gibson’s ensued, as did a boycott of Gibson’s by students and the college.
The students later pleaded guilty.
For more background, see out prior posts.
- Bakery targeted by Oberlin College #BlackLivesMatter fights back
- Oberlin College halted purchases from Gibson’s Bakery targeted by #BlackLivesMatter, but may reconsider
- Gibson’s Bakery sues Oberlin College over racial profiling accusations, Oberlin cuts business ties
- Oberlin College lashes out at Gibson’s Bakery, portrays itself as victim
- Court: Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit against Oberlin College can continue in full
- Oberlin College: We can’t get a fair trial in our home county
- Judge rejects Oberlin College request to move town-gown lawsuit to another county
Recently, we covered the college’s attempt to obtain records from Legal Insurrection relating to our coverage. After we moved to quash the subpoena and for a protective order, the college withdrew the subpoena.
The college also served a deposition subpoena on local reporter Jason Hawk of the Oberlin News Tribune. Hawk and the Tribune moved to quash the subpoena and for a protective order, after disputes arose at Hawk’s deposition as to the areas into which the college’s attorneys would be permitted to question. The details arte in our post, Oberlin College goes after another news organization’s communications.
The college filed a response to the motion to quash (pdf.), and a cross-motion to compel, asserting that it needed to question Hawk because Hawk was identified by Gibson’s as a witness as to his interaction with Raimondo at a protest outside the bakery. Hawk and the Tribune also filed a reply (pdf.).
A key issue was this testimony by Hawk at the deposition (pdf.), in which he alleged that Raimondo tried to block him from taking photos at the protest, and handed him a flyer that referred to Gibson’s as “racist” or some similar word. Hawk also described interactions with protesters.
The court just ruled.
While superficially the college won part of the motion, in fact it was a serious strategic loss. The court ruled that the college could question Hawk as to his interaction with Raimondo, but could not question Hawk as to his sources or editorial methods.
Whether or not Mr. Hawk should be compelled to answer further questions relative to his observations and interactions with Defendant Dr. Meredith Raimondo, (specifically on November 10, 2016), and student protesters when gathering information for two separate articles that ONR published is at the center of this controversy.
Mr. Hawk claims that his testimony, as a reporter for the ONR, is privileged under Ohio’s Shield Law, R.C. 2739.12 as well as under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution, Ari. I, Sec. 11.
* * *
What appears to be at issue here is Hawks answers to questions addressing his interaction(s) with Dr. Meredith Raimondo at the student demonstrations in front of Plaintiff’s bakery, his observations while present at the demonstrations and personal observations related to the alleged shoplifting incident. It appears that, initially, counsel for the parties agreed (at least in principle) as to the scope of Hawks’ deposition testimony. Defendants argue that at that actual deposition, counsel for Hawk instructed him not to answer many questions that fell within the purview of the previously agreed questioning. Upon review, this court agrees.
Clearly, the information sought by defendants from Mr. Hawk are relevant to their defense of plaintiffs’ claims. The court is not persuaded that because Dr. Raimondo is a party and some of the interactions involve her, that the information sought by the defendants is available through alternate means. Hawk is also the only individual identified by Plaintiff as having received a flyer from Dr. Raimondo at the demonstrations. Lastly, the court finds that there is a compelling interest on the part of the defendants to obtain this information, not the least of which goes to their defense of plaintiffs’ claims.
* * *
The parties are reminded that this case is in the discovery phase and the court is not necessarily making a ruling that information obtained from Mr. Hawk will be admissible, however, the court finds that Mr. Hawk should answer questions related to his personal observations and interactions while present at the demonstrations, including his discussions with individuals, including Dr. Raimondo, present at the same.
However, the court will place the following limitations on questions which Mr. Hawk may be asked at this deposition. Any questions going to the identity of sources not previously identified by plaintiffs are considered privileged. Likewise any discussions that Mr. Hawk had with his editors, i.e., internal communications, are likewise privileged and shall not be the subject of inquiry. Lastly, Mr. Hawk shall not be required to give his personal opinion as to the information that he has gathered.
This is a strategic loss for Oberlin College, even though superficially it’s getting some of what it wants.
The testimony of Hawk at his deposition as to his interactions with Raimondo does not help the college. There was a significant possibility that the testimony would have been excluded unless the college were able to fully question Hawk as to his interaction with Raimondo. Now that the college will get that chance, it’s more likely that the Hawk testimony, which is favorable to Gibson’s case, will be admitted at trial should Hawk be called to testify.
Oberlin College’s desire to fully question Hawk about his interactions with Dean Raimondo may be a case of don’t wish too hard for something, you might get it.
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