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Punitive damage verdict against Oberlin College “was like a seismic wave moving quickly through the courtroom”

Punitive damage verdict against Oberlin College “was like a seismic wave moving quickly through the courtroom”

The view inside the courtroom as the $33 million punitive award was rendered in favor of Gibson’s Bakery.

https://youtu.be/fcwS57LV56A

When the punitive damage jury verdict was read in court yesterday in Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College, it was like a seismic wave moving quickly through the courtroom.

It was that big, bigger than anyone had expected. The added punitive damages was $33,223,500, charged to Oberlin College. That was $33 million in damages added on to the $11.2 million they had already awarded the small business family and its owners as compensatory damages.

The Gibson family was there in full force — with four generations ranging from age 11 to age 90.

[Gibson Family and legal team after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

And surprisingly, the jury decided fairly quickly, with only about two hours of deliberation. Some theorized that the jury knew what they wanted to do on this immediately when they were sent to their deliberation room, but took some extra time because they wanted to finish their court-paid pizza lunch.

What was surprising in some regards was why the jury awarded such a high amount. The punitive damages law in Ohio requires “malice” to be at play with the defendants, meaning they had a “reckless disregard” for the truth. This was explained to the jury in great detail by the judge, and everyone in the courtroom was somewhat surprised that the jury came back with a verdict saying that, not only did Oberlin College libel and defame this small business and family, they did so in a manner that was intentional.

[Judge John Miraldi reads punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

Most of the observers in the court were people who had known the Gibson family for generations, and had been to the long trial as many days as they could. One woman near had a quizzical look in her eyes and a big smile on her face, and said happily, “Did they just say that much money?”

The Gibson family was visibly shocked by the amount as well, as most in the courtroom were thinking the jury’s final punitive damages verdict in the case might top out at maybe $10 million. The fact that it was triple that amount means in many ways that perhaps the jury understood that the whole country was watching. The family hugged and cried a bit, and David Gibson joked to me that his hair had gone from slightly brownish-red to gray during this ordeal, and he was starting to get some of the old hair color back now that the jury verdicts had come down to exonerate his family’s reputation.

He gave me handshake, and then hugged his 11-year-old grandson, Cashlyn.

[David Gibson hugs grandson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

“We never wanted any of this to go to court and have to spend all this time in litigation,” David Gibson said exclusively to the Legal Insurrection. David Gibson is the lead plaintiff in the case and is the principal owner of the business.

“People have no idea on how much stress this has had on our family and business for almost three years. But from the beginning, we just didn’t understand why they were punishing us for something we had nothing to do with.”

“We appreciate that the jury understood what we had gone through, and I think they were saying to the entire country that we can’t allow this to happen to hard-working, small business people whose lives are defined by their business, their family, and their community,” he said.” What the college was doing was trying to take away all those things from us, and we fought hard against that.”

The final tally on punitive damages that Oberlin College was ordered to pay for by the jury is thus: $17,500,000 million for David Gibson, $8,750,000 for Allyn W. “Grandpa” Gibson, and $6,973,500 for the bakery business.

Allyn W. Gibson, age 90 and the patriarch of the business that has been in Oberlin since 1885, wanted to make sure people understood the Gibson family and business were not against students at Oberlin College in any way.

“I have been here my whole life and I love the students and the energy they bring to our community, and people who know me know I always love being with them,” he said. “Students can be great people or they can be bad, just like all of us can be, but they need guidance at the age, and they weren’t getting it when this all started.”

[Lee Plakas greets Allyn W. Gibson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

After the initial protest that said Gibson’s was racist, Oberlin College did nothing to put out the fire, and in fact added to it. That is more than likely what made the jury think they school had acted with “malice’ toward Gibson’s, the primary piece of the punitive damage puzzle. Rather than put out a statement that Gibson’s was not racist, the school put out a letter on Nov. 11 from the school president and the dean of students that said, “Regarding the incident at Gibson’s, we are deeply troubled because we have heard from students that there is more to the story than what has been generally reported. We will commit every resource to determining the full and true narrative, including exploring whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident.”

That statement was not part of the defamation claim, but set a tone of indifference. And it was that indifference by the school, plus emails and texts that showed vitriolic attitude in them, that perhaps caused the jury to go very high on the punitive damages.

According to the evidence presented, the school never did determine “any full and true narrative” and found out as most everyone in the community knew, that the Gibsons had never had and history of racism on any kind. But the school still cut the business off from its cafeteria delivery business (bagels, pastries and pizza dough). Students stopped shopping at the store. Revenues dropped by a huge amount (from about $900,000 in 2016 down to about $500,000 in 2018) and Oberlin College never did anything to rectify the situation.

The damage was worse than most realize. On a walk through campus several weekends ago, this reporter talked to about 20 students at random on campus, and every one of them said they would never shop at Gibson’s because the business and family are racist. When shown the police reports and the fact that the three shoplifters plead guilty and claimed “no racial profiling” was involved, most of the students I spoke with said, “Cops lie.”

Some of the defenders of Oberlin College have claimed that the Gibsons’ were just in it for punishment on this case, and never tried to settle. That could not be further from the truth. According to Lee Plakas, lead attorney for the Gibsons’, a letter was sent before the case was filed in Nov. of 2017 asking for at least some talks on settlement and no answer was sent back (this reporter has seen it).

In early 2018, according to Plakas, two days of talks with a mediator were done, but nothing close to a settlement was achieved. In fact, the talks were initiated by the Gibson’s and “We were ready, willing and able to not have this case go to trial, but Oberlin College and their insurance company seemed to have no interest in settling this case,” Plakas said.

“As they have done throughout this case, they thought that they were above everyone else, and that the rules and working to settle such an egregious case of defaming a good family like the Gibsons’ was beneath them,” he added.

[Meredith Raimondo and Oberlin College lawyers listen as punitive damages verdict is read][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

What this punitive award means is both simple and complicated in many ways. Under Ohio law, punitive awards are capped in most cases at double the compensatory amount already arrived at. In this case, that would mean the punitive damage could be no more than $22.4 million, half of the compensatory damages laid on Oberlin College and far less than the $33 million waylaid on the school today by the jury.

However, there are exceptions in the legislation passed in Ohio in 2008 on the punitive damages cap (ironically it was passed to protect small businesses from having high damages awarded against them, not for them, as in like this case), and Judge John R. Miraldi, the Lorain County Common Pleas judge in this case, will decide on how much of the $33 million will go to the Gibsons.

But it will be more than likely get down closer to the $22.4 million level. Plus, the jury said that the attorneys’ fees that Gibsons’ would have had to pay out of its verdict awards (often at 30% of jury verdict awards), would now have to be paid by Oberlin College. That could be an additional $10 million put on the school’s plate. Judge Miraldi will decide that as well, not any jury.

For those who have speculated that these jury verdicts will be pared down substantially or denied by an appeals court, that also is not good speculation. Yes, there will likely be appeals, but in order to win an appeal in a civil tort case, Oberlin College would have to prove that Judge Miraldi and the jury made egregious decision that went against Ohio law. For those of us in the courtroom, and for legal observers who know more about this than me, appeals reversals are unlikely. And Miraldi was very careful in setting the bar pretty high on evidentiary rulings.

However, if this does ever get to the Ohio Supreme Court, that could be about two years down the road, not a decade.

What was interesting was the jury itself. This jury had none that lived in or near the town Oberlin, and most were from the more populace cities of Elyria (pop. 54,000) and Lorain (pop. 64,000). It was half male and half female, and was a mix between over-40 and under-40. None appeared to be of minority ethnicity like African-American or Hispanic, though a few may have been mixed. But again, this was about as average and middle-class group of people representing the Midwest as one could find.

But in the end, this was a case that will be one that is pointed to as a “tipping point” of sorts. Plakas repeatedly told the jury that this was bigger than them, and that they could make a statement to the country “that this type of behavior is unacceptable to any community because a big collegiate institution like Oberlin College has a responsibility to their community and neighbors, and not just to themselves.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw2Sk_JTaXA

[Protest outside Gibson’s Bakery, November 2016][Via YouTube]

Lorain County has been hit in the past few decades with heavy numbers of manufacturing jobs leaving and a huge drop in housing values from the foreclosure crisis of the Great Recession. That recent history may have had a play in how the jury viewed this case; Lorain County is a strong defender of the little guy against the big economy that seems to have forgotten about them. In this case, the bully wasn’t on Wall Street or cheap Chinese imports, but a big organization with $1 billion in assets in their own backyard.

Plakas told Legal Insurrection why he joined up to represent the Gibson family in a case that early on seemed to be difficult to win. “I was stunned early on when I saw the early letters and emails from the college on this matter that favored their biased ideology over what should have been some semblance of intellectual balance,” he said.

“What [Oberlin College] did to the Gibsons’ was irrational … and that part of it really angered me as juts a private person who saw what was happening to the Gibsons. You would expect a highly regarded university, with a long history of being a great school in this country, would have disregarded what we would think of as a basic thought process,” Plakas continued.

“We worked hard on this, and I am proud of our legal team so much,” he said. “But the Gibson family were the ones that worked the hardest. They knew from the beginning that the only way to get justice, to get their name restored, was to work hard and sacrifice. They had to lay off workers and go without salary, and most would have just quit and folded up the business. But they didn’t.”

“They did what a lot of people wouldn’t do, and the country should realize that what they did will benefit many of us in many ways for many years.”

[Featured Image: YouTube]

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

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Comments

The Gibsons appear to be regular, down home, hard working people. The fact that they had to endure this is so despicable. I hope this gives pause to other administrators of other unis that want to join in the ranting of their fringe students.

FANTASTIC JOB!! Mr. McGraw. I felt I knew everything going on in the courtroom thanks to your reporting.

I have a question about something that I don’t remember coming up but it could explain a lot. Not excuse but explain a lot. Are the Gibsons Jewish?

I ask because of a commenter, tic…tic…BOOM from yesterday citing an article from 4/2016 about Raimondo and her anti semetic views. If the Gibsons are Jewish, this could explain Raimandos blinders as far as ‘doing the right thing’ goes. Hate is a powerful poison.

Here’s the link:

http://www.thetower.org/3205-new-controversy-swirls-at-oberlin-around-appointment-of-interim-dean-of-students/

Again, thanks for the great job.

    herm2416 in reply to RITaxpayer. | June 14, 2019 at 8:08 am

    After reading this, I’m surprised she didn’t melt during the damages announcement.

    “Anything could be a trigger—a smell, song, scene, phrase, place, person, and so on,” the guide read. “Triggers are not only relevant to sexual misconduct, but also to anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism and other issues of privilege and oppression.” It also instructed professors to “Remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.”

    The more you learn about how deep the rot goes at Oberlin, the more appropriate these four words are:

    MAKE THE RUBBLE BOUNCE

JackinSilverSpring | June 14, 2019 at 7:56 am

Check out Steve Hayward at Powerlineblog.com to see what a piece of work Raimondo is, and the anti-American, antisemitic courses she teaches. Oberlin should be sued by its graduates for educational malpractice.

” they did so in a manner that was intentional.”

Well it certainly wasn’t accidental, and the Gibsons’ legal team did a great job of establishing that, but I wouldn’t know that without Mr. McGraw’s reporting. Or, if I would, I doubt with the same attention to detail. Thank you for a fine job, reporter and blog alike. Thanks for showing that a free press can still do good things.

As for the Gibsons, I wish them well, I regret the great damage that has been done to them, and mere money may never be enough, but more than that, the jury in effect declared loud and clear that the Gibsons were in the right all along. I hope that is of some comfort.

    cucha in reply to JBourque. | June 14, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    McGraw didn´t report squat. In fact, this piece is Fake News. The Gibsons got 22 million in punitive damages, not 33 million.

    You can tell McGraw never followed Jacobson’s great coverage.

      I’ll be polite and gracious now, and sort out the details of the judgment later, thank you. I can always throw tomatoes afterwards.

      Silvertree in reply to cucha. | June 14, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      The jury awarded 33 million in punitive damages, on top of the original 11 million. Also they ruled that the College has to pay the Gibsons’ attorney fees. Ohio state law caps punitive damages in most cases though, so that 33 million is likely to be reduced down to around 22 million.

    cucha in reply to JBourque. | June 14, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    McGraw didn´t report squat. In fact, this piece is Fake News. The Gibsons got 22 million in punitive damages, not 33 million..

    You can tell McGraw never followed Jacobson’s great coverage.

      Silvertree in reply to cucha. | June 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      The final punitive damage award is yet to be determined (see my post above).

      alaskabob in reply to cucha. | June 14, 2019 at 2:03 pm

      I can understand “hard of hearing” but not “hard of thinking.” LI postulated $22 million on top of the $11 but the jury went above that in the end. Fortunately, all of LI’s coverage is reviewable which might be a good thing to do.

May that seismic wave spread far beyond the courtroom and throughout our land ridding us of the cultural marxism that has taken root and become pervasive and invasive in our classrooms and country!

healthguyfsu | June 14, 2019 at 8:17 am

The Gibsons are national heroes to many at this point.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to healthguyfsu. | June 14, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    “National Heroes”

    With this in mind, and the likelihood that Oberlin will continue to try and bankrupt Gibsons during appeals, some sort of fundraising should be setup to help them get through this. Perhaps LI Foundation could serve as a vehicle for this?

“and everyone in the courtroom was somewhat surprised that the jury came back with a verdict saying that, not only did Oberlin College libel and defame this small business and family, they did so in a manner that was intentional.”

Everyone? While I could understand if everyone in the courtroom was somewhat surprised to hear the words “$33 million”, it could not have been more clear that the college acted with malice in a manner that was intentional.

This continued push to present the jury as somehow out of touch only makes clear that the award was justified to make the point that MOST people feel Oberlin’s behavior was fascist at its core.

    Tom Servo in reply to elle. | June 14, 2019 at 9:22 am

    People should also note that the incredible incompetence and tone-deaf attitude of Oberlin’s “defense” attorney’s not only helped but virtually guaranteed that the maximum award would be granted against their clients.

    Now, it may be true that the Juror’s had already made up their minds during the earlier phases of the trial; but consider the testimony that was presented to them during the punitive damages phase. A competent Legal team would have acknowledged their previous ruling in the case, said that his clients were deeply sorry, and put on an argument as to why punitive damages were not appropriate and should not be assessed. From what I’ve read, they didn’t even try that – instead, they took an attitude of “ok maybe we deserve it, but WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!”

    And I can’t think of any approach that would piss off a jury more than that – trying to guilt them into ruling in their favor. Meanwhile, Gibson’s attorneys spent their time showing that Oberlin had nearly a $1 Billion endowment, providing evidence of same, which clearly convinced the Jury that Oberlin was flat out lying when they claimed that they were broke.

    The incompetence of Oberlin’s attorneys (probably on the advice and direction of Varner) guaranteed that the maximum award against them would be assessed.

Now let’s hope this “seismic wave” keeps moving quickly through the United States, sending a clear message to all other colleges.

levi from queens | June 14, 2019 at 8:55 am

One effect of the punitive award may be to bolster Lexington Insurance Company’s ability to deny coverage. As I understand it, the coverage does not extend to intentional acts. This would mean that the entire verdict would come out of Oberlin’s $800+ million cash hoard, i.e. the endowment fund. Years ago, Lexington had a reputation for being very leery of paying claims with even a hint of a defense available.

“What [Oberlin College] did to the Gibsons’ was irrational“

If you apply Krauthammer’s Law, “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”. Too many Liberals have internalized the belief that Conservatives are evil. When we talk about social justice warriors, they see themselves as warriors against evil and whatever they do is righteous in the face of evil. Their zealotry means to them anything they do is good because the other guys are evil.

    Tom Servo in reply to Ironman. | June 14, 2019 at 9:28 am

    I also don’t think what Oberlin did to the Gibson’s was “irrational” at all, not when you consider what their real goals were. Oberlin wanted Gibson’s to agree to never call the police on any student, and to submit all student disputes to Oberlin Administrators for adjudication. When Gibson’s refused to submit to their demands, Oberlin took the position of any medieval lord and lashed out to crush the impudent peasants, by breaking their supply contracts and trying to drive them out of business.

    Oberlin’s goal was for there to be NO authority in that town other than the Oberlin administration, and they worked quite rationally towards that goal. Fortunately for everyone else, their plans blew up in their face.

CaptYossarian | June 14, 2019 at 9:17 am

Surely, the attorney for Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery in Denver now defending its third case for alleged, but nonexistent, discrimination, will see the message here and counter-sue for libel.

Blaise MacLean | June 14, 2019 at 9:51 am

Responding to RITaxpayer

If you look at the kind of courses she “teaches” they are intersectionality/grievance studies type stuff. So whether the Gibsons are/are not Jewish, the Anti-Semitism seems today to be so integrated within the left’s worldview that I suspect it factored in.

I posted in a comment elsewhere on LI that Raimondo reminded me very much of Melissa Click (U Missouri). Both got involved in protests in a very “hands-on” way and both used the excuse that they were protecting the students. This type of SJW is, in my opinion, highly ideological, impervious to other perspectives and a bit dangerous. They certainly should not be teaching (really, indoctrinating) our kids, much less be in positions to hire others like themselves.

If I am right it explains why Oberlin never resolved the case, much less apologized. They couldn’t and they can’t because they have synthesized all the intersectionality. They (both Raimundo and other administrators) believe their own propaganda. My suspicion is that Raimundo is not chastened but furious. Like Col. Jessup (A Few Good Men) she wants and needs to call out the “racists” she believes are everywhere. And so she went out with her bullhorn and flyers labelling as “racist” a family she believed was so…in the face of all contrary evidence but rather because of her internalization of intersectionality dogma. That’s my suspicion anyway.

In the face of that, I have great curiosity about how Oberlin’s lawyers handled the case. If they were ideologically onside then that would bode badly for the case because they would be completely unable to imagine the case from the jury’s perspective. But I wonder if behind closed doors they had a battle on their hands. For me a telling moment was reported by Mr. McGraw when he noted the Oberlin lawyer turned to the Gibsons and said “We don’t hate you”. Though she was arguing at that moment on the client’s behalf against punitive damages, I wonder if she was really speaking for herself. A signal maybe that the tactics in the case originated in the university and not her office. I dunno (obviously)

I just hope that saner minds get control of Oberlin’s management before it’s too late.

    maxmillion in reply to Blaise MacLean. | June 14, 2019 at 11:09 am

    With respect to the college’s legal defense strategies, it looks as though a debilitating case of groupthink cloaks them all, their lawyers and college administration.

    “We don’t hate you”

    I too thought that interesting. My thought was that it was patronizing, like one might say to a child or disabled person incapable of understanding the reason why the trial was happening.

I propose that Gibson’s Bakery be named a National Historic Landmark. The place will/should go down in history as the location where a hardworking family fought for justice and WON. That would give it protected status.

Paul In Sweden | June 14, 2019 at 10:45 am

“On a walk through campus several weekends ago, this reporter talked to about 20 students at random on campus, and every one of them said they would never shop at Gibson’s because the business and family are racist. When shown the police reports and the fact that the three shoplifters plead guilty and claimed “no racial profiling” was involved, most of the students I spoke with said, “Cops lie.””

Behold the product of Oberlin and a great many other institutions. These institutions are producing Professional Student Activists that demand not only course credit for skipping class but actually demand a salary from the universities and colleges for their protests.

First of all, thank you, thank you Daniel McGraw for your stellar reporting on this case. Your well-written (forget the typos!) commentary provided an eyes and ears view from inside the courtroom. The story was gripping and your explanations clear, making a legal case understandable to those not in the legal profession. Thank you for all of the TIME you devoted to this – I very much appreciate what you have done! I couldn’t wait each evening to read your next “installment”. Grateful for the Gibson’s that it turned out so well!

Thank you Professor Jacobsen for providing your considerable insights and observations on this case and giving us this forum for discussion. It is good to see the wide spread (and well-deserved!) attention you are receiving in the national media.

Finally – thank you to the LI community who take the time to comment. I have learned much (and laughed often!) from your observations. I seriously wish sometimes that I could do more than simply “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”!

I am so happy the Gibson’s family prevailed over Oberlin college! Gosh this reminded me of David and Goliath – with the Gibson’s as David representing Average Hardworking Americans battling the Goliath of Oberlin University who represent the progressive elite in our country. So many parallels – Goliath was so confident in his power that he was totally unprepared for what hit him. Good to see Oberlin – oops I mean Goliath! – taken down by the well-placed stone of truth. Very, very satisfying.

Great just conclusion to this trial. Couldn’t have been better unless the prime mover at Oberlin was fired.

Richard Aubrey | June 15, 2019 at 7:02 pm

As others have said, this result might cause various of the Covingtion/Sandmann defendants to decide to settle. Because discovery could be a Very Bad Thing and the corporate arrogance that the Lower Orders wouldn’t notice no longer seems quite so…worth betting on.
And the jurors, if they’re not in DC, or some other blue city, might not cooperate with the Right Sort of People’s view of right and wrong.
I can hardly wait.

At War With HOA | June 16, 2019 at 2:21 am

Love the Gibson and company picture! Looks like a great group.

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