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Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College Opening Statements: Claims of War and Peace

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College Opening Statements: Claims of War and Peace

Plaintiff’s attorney showed student texts that “the war in our community has already started,” the college’s attorney says school officials were just trying to “de-escalate the crisis.”

In ways that are both irritating and interesting, the opening statements by the attorneys in Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College shows how jurors may have a hard time defining the event in question accurately.

The question is whether a fairly elite, liberal arts college (Oberlin College) defamed and libeled a small family run business (Gibson’s Bakery & Market) with racial overtones. All this in a time when the different political and cultural tribes were picking sides on just about everything, the day after Donald Trump’s election.

But listen to what the lead attorneys told the jury today in Elyria, Ohio.

“When Oberlin College had the opportunity to calm things down, the administrators as a group, chose to fan the flames,” said Lee Plakas, attorney for Gibson’s and the individual plaintiffs.

Here is what attorney Ronald Holman II, the lead attorney for Oberlin College, the defendant, said to the jury: “[Dean of Students] Meredith Raimondo and Oberlin College were that calming influence … They were there to lower the temperature between students, businesses, onlookers and others. They kept the peace.”

For those who study civil tort law, or for anyone who has been in arguments with friends or family members, perception becomes the key. In recent years, it has become not what is the truth, but what side people are on. How this plays out in the courtroom is very new, and in this case, how the social media played into things will be front and center for the next three weeks.

It was quite clear today, however, what each side was going to put forward into evidence to break any advocacy logjam.

In the opening statement, Plakas emphasized how Gibson’s was caught in the middle of racial histrionics that the Oberlin College found itself in. Instead of tamping down on a student protest that seemed to have little factual relevance at its purpose, Plakas showed the jury messages sent by the protests organizers that “The war in our community has already started” and “It’s time to get in formation, for real.”

This “war in the community” was over students getting arrested for stealing wine.

Holman said the school’s involvement was nothing more than the usual protocol they followed: that Raimondo was involved, yes, but not so much to decide if the protest was righteous or not. “The Dean of Students will serve as the responsible official and spokesperson at the scene for the college,” the “Student Regulations, Policies, and Procedures” document says, which Holman said was the rules the school has always followed.

Witnesses and evidence will be presented starting tomorrow (Friday), and the case looks like it could be a classic example of antiquated school policy and a culturally dismayed student body colliding into each other and common sense being the victim. And that irony seems to be the focus of the messages. The plaintiffs are pointing out to the jury over and over again how students just don’t arrive at their own crazy behavior without a little help from the school they attend and live at.

Oberlin College’s attorneys, on the contrary, are pointing out that they are not at fault in any way: they followed their own rules, made sure the protest was safe, and if this private business suffered from student antipathy, the school had little to do with that.

This all started on Nov 9, 2016 when three Oberlin African-American students were arrested for their roles in attempting to shoplift three bottles of wine form the store. That precipitated that the “war in our community has already started” chanting and Gibson’s found over time their business and reputation had been harmed significantly because of racist accusations, according to their complaint. Some background on this case can be found here.

But it is apparent that the jury will have to get used to the oddity of life and times in a little college town. Gibson’s had been a business in the community since 1885, and has done business with the college since the 1910s. Those business duties (besides what they sell in their very tiny downtown store) include providing some edibles for the campus cafeteria, and doing party trays and morning pastries for meeting at the college. They also were chosen by the school to be able to accept the student money cards that were overseen by the school (called Obie cards).

The school ended using the store as a food provider in various ways after the protests started. Once the lawsuit was filed in November of 2017, the school cut them off completely.

It is extremely odd that a school like Oberlin College would suddenly symbolically come to blows with a business they had been dealing with for more than 100 years. “Gibson’s survived Word War I in working with the school, they survived the Great Depression, World War II, and more recently the Great Recession, but now [a shoplifting case] made the school make a decision to interrupt that longstanding relationship,” Plakas told the jury

“And at no time,” Plakas continued, “did the school have any complaints about the food or the service Gibson’s provided. This wouldn’t have happened if Oberlin had acted like the adult in the room, instead of being childish and playing up to their students.”

One can see how this college school “town and gown” nuttiness comes into play in some of the emails issued out by school administrators after the protest.

Just days after the student protest started, administrators were already starting to discuss in emails about the possibility of cutting Gibson’s off from being a food contractors for the school.  Some for the emails stated the business cancellations might be a “tool for leverage” and a “great bargaining chip” in dealing with Gibson’s. The school wanted Gibson’s to go to the Oberlin police and courts and have the shoplifting charges dropped, according to the plaintiffs.

The first emails said the school should discuss getting rid of Gibson’s for providing “Donuts, cookies, and even pizza dough” for the school.

An administrator responsible for campus food service sent back an email and asked, “You really want no pizza?”

One of the school’s communication officers sent a response saying, “Transfer to [local grocery store] … Better donuts, anyway … Fuck ‘em.”

The special assistant for the Oberlin College president shot back, “100%!!!!!!!” and “don’t change a damn thing for me.”

While all this may seem very silly (and a lot of it is), it does show the vast difference between life in the real free market world and life in the sometimes fantasy land of academia. It became quite apparent that a fifth-generation family business didn’t seem to be that important to the school, and had little idea that a long-time school business partner that helped provide pizza for their students, used that money from their work to do things like pay mortgages and buy food and raise children and grand-children.

To that end, Plakas repeatedly told the jurors this was a “David and Goliath” case, with the school being the Philistine giant and Gibson’s as the little guy with the stone in the sling. Defense counsel Holman took the opposite view, and told the jurors repeatedly that Raimondo and the school were merely following their protocol to “de-escalate the crisis.”

Jury Profile

As for the jury, this being a civil case in Ohio, the jury is eight regular jurors and two alternates (who are not told of their alternate status until after the case is finished and goes to the jury). Of the ten, six are women, and four are men. It seems about half-and-half as far as age goes; five look to be under 40, five above that age.

As far as race goes, the jury seems to be mostly white, though it is difficult to tell by sight exactly how many may have part-minority ancestry. As to pre-emptory challenges by both sides, the court does not release which side knocked off which juror, and the attorneys would not say either. Only two seemed to have any political leanings that might have mattered to either side: one was a Teamster union official who helped plan political rallies for the union; the other was a woman who answered questions very independently and offered up she had a attended an anti-Trump rally in Washington DC right after his election.

But all in all, this jury seems very representative of Lorain County, Ohio. Very ordinary and middle-class, about half with a college degree or higher, and no one standing out as one who wants to get too independent on this jury. In other words, this group is a pretty fair representation of Midwest suburban America: mostly white, middle-class, and those who understand the concept of “fairness.”

Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1

[Featured Image: Plaintiff David Gibson immediately after the shoplifting incident that sparked protests and eventually this lawsuit, via Police body cam video.]


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legacyrepublican | May 9, 2019 at 8:56 pm

I find it odd that the administration that has valued its relationship with the Gibson’s bakery for five generations since 1885 suddenly decides that their relationship doesn’t matter anymore.

A part of me says the disconnect must have happened some time before and Gibson didn’t see the signs.

Another part of me asks an entirely different question. If the accused students stole instead the answers to a final exam for three different classes, what would Oberlin’s position be then?

Anyway, this is turning into an interesting case and I really appreciate the daily updates and insight.

    Tom Servo in reply to legacyrepublican. | May 10, 2019 at 1:28 am

    “A part of me says the disconnect must have happened some time before and Gibson didn’t see the signs.”

    Probably when Oberlin went Communist and decided that All Business Owners are Evil.

    “I find it odd that the administration…suddenly decides that their relationship doesn’t matter anymore.”

    In my experience, one can be longtime friends with a leftist but the moment one says anything that contradicts Current Truth that friendship counts for nothing. Suddenly one is no longer a friend but a target of vicious attack.
    Oberlin went far-left long ago, and to the Left ideology trumps everything.

      pst314 in reply to pst314. | May 10, 2019 at 10:08 pm

      When American leftist writer John Dos Passos visited Spain during the Civil War, he realized that the communists were not heroes but vicious thugs. His old friend Earnest Hemingway angrily shook his face in Dos Passos’ face, threatening him if he should write about what he learned: “Civil liberties, shit. Are you with us or against us?”
      –The Red Decade, by Eugene Lyons, reviewed in the Spring 2019 City Journal

    tom_swift in reply to legacyrepublican. | May 10, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    If the accused students stole instead the answers to a final exam for three different classes, what would Oberlin’s position be then?

    Stealing exam answers isn’t a crime in the same league with allowing minors to abscond with alcohol. Gibson’s pretty much had to act, and supporting Gibson’s efforts is the only reasonable action for Oberlin to take.

    But that is apparently what Raimondo—and therefore Oberlin—did not do.

    “The Dean of Students will serve as the responsible official and spokesperson at the scene for the college,” so anything Gibson’s can hang on Raimondo will stick to the school. If Oberlin can show any reason to believe “that Raimondo and the school were merely following their protocol to ‘de-escalate the crisis'”, then all well and fine. But if the evidence shows that she was pissing racist gasoline onto the fire, then Oberlin’s goose is cooked.

Are punitive damages possible for this case?

Great coverage. Here’s the nub:
“This wouldn’t have happened if Oberlin had acted like the adult in the room, instead of being childish and playing up to their students. . . .”

IMO (if I was judge/jury), Meredith Raimondo and the other supposed-grown-up advisors, personally apologize to Gibson’s for inflaming the histrionics. Because I live in NJ, it reminds me of Bridget Kelly’s smoking email (“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,”).

Oberlin pays Gibson’s $100k for damages and perhaps treble that . . . and resume business as before.

People and institutions (and their agent/employees) make mistakes. Pay for them and move on.

    paracelsus in reply to Yuckster. | May 10, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    I would agree with you, but:
    no matter which way the jury decides, Gibson’s is done, finished.
    I don’t know where more of Gibson’s profit is coming from, but they will never have the business relationship they once had with the school.
    What a shame! losing a generational business for standing up for what is right, for standing up to defend yourself.
    This is what the Universities are teaching our children:
    Put the victim on trial.

      Yuckster in reply to paracelsus. | May 12, 2019 at 12:08 pm

      Good points, yes. But I do intend to shop there when I take my matriculant to Oberlin at the end of August. We live in a slightly larger college town, and one of my son’s attractions to Oberlin was the small business district. (I am not sure he cares who Meredith Raimondo is, or whether Oberlin replaces her.)

      The dirty secret of the self-important SJW-movement (and I sort of was one when I was a too-smart 19 year old a long time ago), is that most fellow students really don’t care. There’s a new generation of kids, who won’t know about this tempest, enrolling in Oberlin over the next couple of years.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Yuckster. | May 12, 2019 at 10:15 am

    $100 K, even $400 K is not enough to seen a clear message, make that millions and then they will understand, even more important is that other colleges will have to reconsider just how far they should be pushing affirmative BS.

    There should also be lawsuits against the individual players, I spent many years adjusting big shot corporate honchos attitudes. While they were worrying about my suing them, I was busy engineering regime change. By the time they figured out what I was doing, it was too late and their asses were fired or shortly thereafter fired.

    College administrators are similar critters, they have huge egos and exercise little thought before engaging them. They amount to nearly the lowest class of politicians. Like corporate upper management, they do not think they can be touched, and that drives their stupid arrogance.

Re: your “Jury Profile” reporting.
Thanks for your racist, ageist descriptors.
Among other things, go salute yourself.

    bear in reply to guinspen. | May 10, 2019 at 3:19 am

    Just as Oberlin did, penguins has created the race card from whole cloth, and tossed it at anyone/thing that isn’t socialist.

    Albigensian in reply to guinspen. | May 10, 2019 at 9:51 am

    I’d admit that there are many, many black guys I’d trust to return an honest, evidence-based verdict when serving on a jury over what I’d expect from all too many ‘woke’ white women.

    Nonetheless, the demographics of the jurors is news, and the press has an absolute Constitutional right to report it.

    Further, much reporting would be of better quality if the press did not self-censor by hiding such information when covering civil or criminal trials.

    healthguyfsu in reply to guinspen. | May 10, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Someone got a little triggered. Jury demographics are always a factor in trial analysis and are a huge part of the outcome.

    Now, run along and fingerpaint.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to guinspen. | May 12, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I looks like Rags-Rump is trying to hide behind a new alias. The character shines right through

Nuke the Academy.


Well, a new troll. That didn’t take long.

Well, “As far as race goes, the jury seems to be mostly white, though it is difficult to tell by sight exactly how many may have part-minority ancestry.”

Defend that, xd.

“It seems about half-and-half as far as age goes; five look to be under 40, five above that age.”

And it seems that that has nothing to do with anything as regards “fairness.”

    MynameisallthatIhave in reply to guinspen. | May 10, 2019 at 2:08 am

    God! Another snowflake

      It seems the two commenters already know the verdict…..jury finds for Gibson’s, because of the composition of the jury, and nothing else,,,,like evidence. Good golly.

      In any other case, people look at the composition of the jury. How is this case any different? Thirty years ago, that wasn’t the case; now, it’s the first thing people comment on. Race, age, sex, ethnicity…etc. Theoretically, none of those should have ANYthing to do with the verdict. Theoretically.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s top-notch reporting by McGraw, but he needs some editorial counsel.

Guinspen – You seem to have issues with simple visual observation. You may need some optometric counsel.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Sally MJ. | May 12, 2019 at 10:26 am

    It sees but doesn’t see, the problem is corrupted brain matter.

    guinspen in reply to Sally MJ. | May 12, 2019 at 10:12 pm

    “issues with simple visual observation. You may need some optometric counsel.”

    “As an aside, six downvotes for ‘it’s top-notch reporting by McGraw?'”

    Physician, heal thyself.

“Defense counsel Holman took the opposite view, and told the jurors repeatedly that Raimondo and the school were merely following their protocol to “de-escalate the crisis.”

I really don’t see how this actually helps the school. Seems like their protocol is to bend over backwards for the children and to incite and inflame situations because the children are crying for it.

Guinspen – if I am a 55-year-old white woman, why do you think it’s bad for a writer to state that fact? It sounds like you think the writer should instead say I’m a 25-year-old black gay man.

This is a news article. The demographic breakout of juries is always speculative, particularly in a case like this, where Oberlin created racism out of nothing, and harmed an innocent party.

    guinspen in reply to Sally MJ. | May 12, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    Reading comprehension is a practiced skill, Sall MJ. Go reread my comments, viz “editorial counsel.”

    guinspen in reply to Sally MJ. | May 12, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    Of course, I’m not expecting much on a site populated by overindoctrinated college puddings.

    guinspen in reply to Sally MJ. | May 12, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Plus, as a matter of course, I hope you and all you fellow travelers have kicked in to the Legal Insurrection Foundation. I know I have.

All because blacks must supposedly be allowed to steal wine or whatever else they want. This is what the left calls “restorative justice,” recently seen in the Jussie Smollett case and with the rotten little career criminal with the Hispanic last name who had nary a charge on his record he committed mass murder in Parkland Florida.

The worst thing for minority communities is giving a pass to their criminal element. Law abiding minority members are victimized first by being stuck with criminals in their midst, then they suffer from the stigma of being a member of a demographic group that is flush with unincarcerated criminals.

But the Alinsky communists (led by Hillary and Obama) love it. This was Alinsky’s special American plan for implementing Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci’s “long march through the institutions.”

By exacerbating America’s racial divisions and other group identity divisions the communists could cobble together a 51% voting bloc sufficient to overthrow individual liberty. The commies just have to be willing to destroy blacks and all the other cannon fodder groups by siding with their criminals.

They actually dupe the trans people into mutilating their bodies, and everybody on the left goes along, all under the pretense of kindness.

The kindest policy would be for no one to ever to hire anyone with an Oberlin degree. Students would have to stop going and hence would be spared indoctrination into communist evil.

Have we come to the point where primates can steal openly from businesses and be defended. The fact that the college came to the defense of these thieves is disgusting but in this case, it is a liberal art’s college which is the vanguard of the social engineering destruction of our country.

Demographics are important in jury selection. To pretend otherwise is dishonest at worst, and naive at best. The reporting of this case appears to be accurate, and of interest to those of us in the legal community, and I find fact based reporting to be refreshing in these times. Political correctness, at least in part, is what led to the trial in the first place.

I wonder how the school et all could defend the black shoplifters and attack their victims?

Actions speak louder than words. The fact that the college immediately suspended their account with Gibsons, to me, indicates that the college supported the students views with an indisputable action.

I don’t know what road Oberlin College is on, but I am pretty certain that it isn’t the “high one” that they imagine. 🙁

Exactly! If Oberlin had valued the relationship over that dispute, and/or had bothered to ask their attorneys, they could have probably settled this case… 2-1/2 years ago. Bad strategy, in addition to bad actions.