Image 01 Image 03

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College: $5 million attorney’s fees may be a floor, not a ceiling

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College: $5 million attorney’s fees may be a floor, not a ceiling

The hourly time put in by the plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys each was just under $5 million. That would seem to create a measure of “reasonable attorney’s fees” to be awarded Gibson’s — the issue is whether and how much of a multiplier is applied.

In one of the last hearings in local court regarding the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John R. Miraldi heard evidence today on what the college owes in attorney’s fees.

As previously reported, Gibson’s signaled in court filings that it intended to seek $9-13 million, including a so-called lodestar.

A jury found last month that the college defamed the small business and its owners, and committed other torts, by helping distribute libelous claims of racial profiling. The same jury also awarded asked the judge to also award the plaintiffs attorney’s fees to be paid by Oberlin College, with the amount to be determined by the judge.

This is in addition to the $44 million they found Oberlin College owes the Gibson Bakery and Market. Verdict caps mandated by Ohio law have downgraded those initial verdicts down to $25 million, however.

Not surprisingly, at the hearing today each side had vastly different positions on the amount they thought was owed for attorney’s fees.

Each side gave the judge the number of billable hours they worked and the total compensation for those hours. Oberlin College’s attorneys have billed $4,932,199 for their work, though it’s unclear if that was paid by insurance companies or the college. But it was a measure of how much the defense lawyers put into the case. That is based on 15,626 billable hours.

By contrast, the Gibson’s lawyers worked 14,417 hours at a cost of $4,855,856 if using an hourly rate. The Gibson’s lawyers had the case on a 40% contingency fee, so the time records are being used as a measure, subject to multiplying under a “lodestar,” of what the legal fees would have been based on an hourly rate. The “lodestar” or “enhancements” format is meant to compensate lawyers who take cases on a contingency fee for the risk, when assessing a court award of reasonable attorney’s fees.

Each side also called their respective witnesses on the issue of reasonableness — local attorneys with a knowledge of what is reasonable in the  in Northeast Ohio for handling such a case.

The expert for the Oberlin College side of the aisle, local attorney Eric Zagrans, told the court that the Gibson’s family and business did not need any more money. “The plaintiffs are made whole by the compensatory and punitive damages,” he said, adding that the damages the jury awarded “are more than sufficient to pay the attorney’s fees.”

Dennis Lansdowne, a local attorney testifying on behalf of the Gibson’s lawyers, pointed out that this was the largest defamation verdict in Ohio history, and told the court that the chance taken by bringing this case to court merits a larger fee. “If the Gibson family had to put money up front, and defamation cases are the most difficult cases to bring to court, they would not have been able to get the justice they deserve without their attorneys taking a big chance with the contingency fee arrangement,” Lansdowne said.

“This case involved a lot of complex legal issues and a commitment from the lawyer to pursue many angles,” he said. “This was not some slip and fall case.”

The judge will rule on how much Oberlin College needs to pay later, possible weeks from now.

But as usual in this case, there was much disagreement as too how much in fees for legal work is fair and appropriate. The attorneys for Gibson’s presented evidence that they should be receiving between $9-$14 million for their work, based on a multiple of their hourly rate, money that the family business wouldn’t have to pay from their verdict pot.

And the plaintiffs also expressed that such attorney’s fees paid by the defense should not be small because part of the purpose of such punitive payments is to be a reminder that they should not defame people and businesses again.

The college’s lawyer presented a view that the attorney’s fees awarded by the Judge John R. Miraldi (who presided over the case) should only between $2 and $2.25 million, if at all. They based that on a Zagrans’ testimony that he thought that Gibson’s attorneys spent too much on hotel expenses and their hourly rates that were way too high for a little town like Elyria, Ohio.

Lorain County, where the court case took place and where the town of Oberlin is located, is in the Cleveland area, which is the 33rd largest metro area in the country and has a population of around 2 million.

It’s interesting to compare these numbers to the 40% contingency fee arrangement. Both the Gibson’s lodestar analysis and the 40% contingency fee come in at around $10 – $12.5 million based on the $25 million judgement.

We will, of course, report on the judge’s decision on attorney’s fees as soon as it is rendered.

[Featured Image: Gibson’s Bakery Attorney Lee Plakas greets Allyn W. Gibson after punitive damages verdict][Photo credit Bob Perkoski for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

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


NOTE: Our trial coverage is a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. Your support helps make this type of coverage possible.

Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.

Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


Anyone one who thinks either side worked that many hours is fooling themselves. I have done trial work for years. Law offices can’t function devoting that many hours to a single case. And insurance lawyers are often reduced to $60-$125 an hour after the first 200 hours.

Yeah, that is a helluva lot of hours. That is 3.5 people working full time for 2 years.

Having to listen to SJWs whine isn’t worth whatever amount of compensation that either side received.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to MajorWood. | July 11, 2019 at 8:48 am

    So don’t listen to them, I don’t listen to them, but I do enjoy knowing when they are losing and whining about it.

    I bet Trump is not listening to them, but he clearly gets a yuk out of winding them up and them tuning them out.

Oberlin attorney brought up needs testing. How SJW of him. Anything over $35000 should be “enough” I guess. I still think Oberlin considers this a fight to the death. I hope no wayward (directed) Oberlin stalwart does something stupid.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to alaskabob. | July 11, 2019 at 9:03 am

    I would like to see Carmen Twillie Ambar fired, and then see her demonstrating how stupid she is by continuing to defame Gibsons, followed by her being sued.

    I really think she made the decisions which greatly aggravated this case,

By contrast, the Gibson’s lawyers worked 14,417 hours

Reality Check—by my estimate, that’s about 20% more time than it took Wilbur and Orville to achieve manned flight.

Comanche Voter | July 11, 2019 at 12:04 am

Okay that’s 7 man years of billable hours. I don’t know where these lawyers practiced. But here in Los Angeles decent corporate defense counsel or corporate practitioners of all types were charging $300 an hour minimum for junior partner lawyers–and the hourly rates went up—waaay up from there.

But say the weighted average of all the billing rates (seniors, juniors and paralegals) was $300 an hour. At 2,000 hours a year, that’s $600,000 x 7 =$4.2 million.

There are opportunity costs as well–those 7 folks working on a contingent fee sort of basis could not be doing work for paying clients.

    RandomCrank in reply to Comanche Voter. | July 11, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    A work year is 220 days times 8 hours, or 1,760 hours. This has been going in for 2-1/2 years, so that would be 4,400 hours per lawyer, which implies 3-1/4 lawyers working the case since the beginning. Sounds reasonable to me.

      RandomCrank in reply to RandomCrank. | July 11, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      I underestimated. We’re talking billable hours here, which do not deduct things like holidays, sick pay, and vacations. So a “billable year” would be 260 days (x) 8 hours, or 2,080 hours per lawyer billable year. If the case has dragged on for 2-1/2 years, that would be 5,200 hours per lawyer, or more like 2-3/4 lawyers doing nothing but the case.

      Obviously, it’s more than that because no lawyer works 260 days a year. And a billable hour isn’t just for the lawyer, but for all of the support staff. Still, however, when you crunch numbers, neither side’s hours seem unreasonable to me.

      I wonder how much of the attorneys’ fees on both sides will be paid by Oberlin’s insurance.

      Terence G. Gain in reply to RandomCrank. | July 11, 2019 at 9:47 pm

      When I was preparing for trial I worked at Least 70 hours per week.

      Lewfarge in reply to RandomCrank. | July 11, 2019 at 10:05 pm

      As a CPA a work year was always calculated to be either 2088 or 2080 hours a year – 365 days – (52 x 2) 104 weekend days = 261 days x 8 hrs / day = 2088 OR 52 weeks x 5 days /week x 8 hours / day = 2080 hours.
      The other factors are any additional fees for “overtime” and EXPENSES !

    puhiawa in reply to Comanche Voter. | July 11, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    I have been in cases where in claims of suspiciously high attorney fees and hours claims, the court has demanded select records for the entire firm (with client redactions) so as to determine actual billings and whether the attorneys are charging 2 clients for work at the same time. Odd things have been found: telephone conferences with different clients at identical time, different rates of compensation, double billing, 24+ days for attorneys, 10 hour trial appearances when the court records show 6.5 hours, etc.

      RandomCrank in reply to puhiawa. | July 12, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      True enough, I’m sure, but in this case the hourly fee and the hours spent were quite similar.

        RandomCrank in reply to RandomCrank. | July 12, 2019 at 4:47 pm

        … on both sides. This would suggest that the bills were either legitimate or that both sides cheated equally.

Just look at the docket, both sides have 8 attorneys named, coming from what looks like 3 different firms on the Gibson’s side and 2 different firms on the Oberlin side.

For a case that’s dragged on 20 months to date, getting to 15,000 billable hours per side means about 750 billable hours per month per side. Doesn’t seem far-fetched, especially considering that in meetings every person in the meeting is billing the time.

It is pretty incredible the people running Oberlin painted themselves into a situation where their best case scenario was winning the case and being out $5 million in legal fees.

    MajorWood in reply to cyrus83. | July 11, 2019 at 10:19 am

    If it was just about the parking lot, that now comes to $400K per space and they still don’t own it.

It’s quite simple really. If you dont want to pay your opposition for 14,000 hours if work dont defame them. Yes it really is that simple people.

    tom_swift in reply to mailman. | July 11, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Obviously not. Were it all that simple, it wouldn’t have sucked up 14,417 lawyer-hours to show it.

Surprisingly we are still a little under the estimate: after all the expert said this case is worth 35,000 hours…..

Wait, so who is getting a five million dollar floor?

PostLiberal | July 11, 2019 at 6:52 am

Trial lawyers donate overwhelmingly to Democrats. As the Gibson’s slander was triggered by Trump’s winning in 2016, there is a lot of irony here.

Terence G. Gain | July 11, 2019 at 8:24 am

I have the greateSt admiration for these attorneys and think a multiplier of 100 gazillion is appropriate.

9thDistrictNeighbor | July 11, 2019 at 8:54 am

I’m sure those billable hours includes work by paralegals, secretaries, interns…they probably had to hire temps. Once the hourly employees hit 40 hours, they get overtime, etc.

I like the fact that Oberlin tried to argue that the Gibsons shouldn’t receive any legal fees, despite the court verdict. They don’t give up, do they?

There has been a lot of comments on previous articles that this verdict won’t really hurt Oberlin, because of the size of their endowment. Actually, I think it will end up being extremely disruptive.

The cost of attending Oberlin is more than $73,000, not including books, health insurance, etc. (Students are usually required to live on-campus.) This amazing high figure is the result of Oberlin’s raising its fees year after year after year. Where did this money go to? Probably mostly to administration, but also to random student services.

Remember when Oberlin students had a protest because their college cafeteria’s sushi wasn’t high enough quality? The takeaway is that they were being served sushi. In a college cafeteria in Ohio. Their dining arrangements were amazing, and the dining services even bragged that ordinary hamburgers weren’t good enough for Oberlin students, and that all their hamburger meat was super-high quality. They also at one time protested that the pianos in their dorms weren’t tuned frequently enough.

Well, a couple of years this all came home to roost, and Oberlin had to start cost-cutting. The faculty had their pay frozen. And the student services had to be cut.

If you want to see entitled student angst, look at the Oberlin Review at the start of the last academic year. They cut student dining services to a more reasonable level, about what is available at most colleges, although still serving things like “Fennel Mustard Pork Loin”. And the students went crazy. It was a violation of their human rights to have to eat lunch in a crowded cafeteria, they cried.

So, what will happen this coming year? I predict that every single necessary budget cut that is done will be blamed on the Gibsons. A piano out-of-tune? Blame the Gibsons! An academic program with only one student enrolled being cut? Blame the Gibsons! Fried chicken not being served every Friday? Blame the Gibsons!

I expect drama.

    walls in reply to slither. | July 11, 2019 at 10:17 am

    The one to ultimately blame is Aladin and his friends. Keep on shopliftin’, bro!

      MajorWood in reply to walls. | July 11, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      I still have deep suspicions about what happened in those first couple of days. Was Aladin offered legal cover if he cooperated with what the college wanted to do? I am a behaviorist by trade and the motivations here, as presented, are simply lacking IMHO. Someone decided to run with it and they needed to make sure that he was on board. I am pretty sure that those of us here on LI are of the opinion that the college exploited a situation, but, at what point did that start? After the students began the protest? Or were college people involved in setting up the protest? I have a hard time believing that the devious behavior exhibited by college personnel over the course of that first year just appeared out of a vacuum.

      I honestly believe that Daniel has enough material here for a book, and if so, I would sure like to see more material presented from Aladin’s perspective. He has become a ghost as far as I can tell from cursory googling. Yet I think he has inside information as to how this all began and exploded. And he must be angry that outsiders have caused the entire shoplifting incident to explode out of proportion. I bet that he did not sign on for that. Anyone want to place odds that he is a no-show at the 5-year reunion? The college certainly owes everyone an explanation as to why people involved with the college got involved in his defense from the get go. And whatever they complain about has to be kept in perspective that all of their problems here were of their own voluntary doings. I doubt that as a self-identifying straight white christian conservative male that I would have been given those options.

        walls in reply to MajorWood. | July 11, 2019 at 12:47 pm

        Agree on all points!

        slither in reply to MajorWood. | July 11, 2019 at 2:25 pm

        Indeed, I find it really an amazing co-incidence that Joy Karega, the ex-Oberlin professor who hated Jews, was fired just a few days after the Gibson incident. Oberlin students strongly supported Karega, and particularly thought that firing her was anti-black. It is interesting that just as this happened, Oberlin was making a huge deal of claiming to support its black community.

        ConradCA in reply to MajorWood. | July 11, 2019 at 3:16 pm

        Your forgetting that this was right after Trump defeated Hillary the standard bearer of the progressive fascist movement. These people think that their better than everyone else blamed their defeat on contemptible others. They saw themselves as victims and like the KKK and Germans after WW1 they were willing to do just about anything to get revenge. When their blacks had difficulties with Gibsons it was a perfect excuse to take revenge on those who defeated them, ie Gibsons.

    Silvertree in reply to slither. | July 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

    You are so right. They will blame the Gibsons for everything!!

    One can only hope that the sickness and rot at Oberlin College will eventually lead to a serious wake-up call for them all. If they continue down this road, eventually life (aka “karma” or “divine justice”) will intervene. They will not last very long with these kinds of attitudes. Those who are sane there are going to have to start speaking out and taking charge, if they want Oberlin College to survive.

    In the meantime, thankfully (hopefully) the Gibsons will have some millions to protect themselves from this insanity. But how very sad that this more than a century-long relationship lies in ruins. I guess with the level of shoplifting by Oberlin students being so high, Gibson’s was already losing so much money. Perhaps it is all for the best.

    krb in reply to slither. | July 11, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    Actually two comments – I would assume the sushi issue would be because it is cultural appropriation, not the quality of the sushi. I didn’t check and it’s not worth the time for either of us.

    More importantly I recall (from memory) Oberlin has around $850M endowment. I would presume no endowment eats seed corn and that it is invested. The market returns around 7% over long periods of time (S&P 500). There is no way 100% of the endowment is invested in equities because of the obvious risk. So realistically, the best they could hope for is no more than 5% ROI if they are invested aggressively with part and in bonds for income for part. That would be 42.5M per year on average, which is probably optimistic. So it seems to me the issue is that this, with lawyers’ fees, this lawsuit just ate up EVERY SINGLE ENDOWMENT DOLLAR the college needed to go forward for this year. The college also says that a substantial portion of their endowment is for dedicated use and cannot be used for general funds. So it probably eats more than their endowment provides, and they will have to dip into student funds. Or pay it out of the endowment, and suffer long term because of a smaller endowment (eating seed corn).

      jb4 in reply to krb. | July 11, 2019 at 10:50 pm

      Elsewhere, it has been pointed out that Oberlin has artwork at the museum worth hundreds of millions. Board of Trustees Chairman Canavan basically said on a 6/27 alumni call that this is not an issue that interferes with their mission. Personally, I think the potential effect on applications, enrollment and attracting students able to pay is a more dangerous issue. Evergreen State College and U Missouri got hammered. Perhaps Oberlin can deal with it short term be being less selective, if they have any interest in changing. Not appealing the judgment, apologizing to Gibson’s and to students and alumni whose diplomas might be devalued because of all the bad press, not blaming Gibson’s for any cutbacks (in view of Canavan’s remarks) and helping some folks “pursue other opportunities” might be a good start.

        jb4 in reply to jb4. | July 11, 2019 at 10:56 pm

        Correction – Canavan said the amount (not “issue”) was something they could manage, when directly asked. The general issue might be a problem, as I later discussed.

What’s interesting is that the number of hours for both sides is so similar–I understand what Gibson’s attorneys did, but given the performance at trial, what in the world did the college’s attorneys do for that number of hours; and it’s ironic that the college actually spent more in fees but is now complaining that Gibson’s attorneys spent too much.

    amatuerwrangler in reply to rochf. | July 11, 2019 at 10:32 am

    I wonder how many of the hours charged by OC’s team were used to try to talk some sense into them and get them to make a reasonable settlement offer because the prospects of a clean win were all but non-existent and some kind of pay out very possible.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to rochf. | July 11, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    I know that they did, they had a whale with deep pockets.

Oberlin’s attorneys had 15,626 billable hours?

Here I’d been assuming they’d just phoned it in.

I suppose it takes a lot of hours to find someone who’ll testify that the value of a family-owned business which had been supplying jobs to multiple family members is only 35k.

Ken in Camarillo | July 11, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Just when I thought Oberlin College had demonstrated the most stupidity anyone could display: they complain that the Gibsons overspent, winning the case by spending the same amount as Oberlin.

Question for attorneys: in war it is assumed that the aggressor must use more resources than the defender to prevail. Is there a similar rule of thumb for legal cases?

Richard Aubrey | July 11, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Back in the day, over half a century ago, I poked around some Ohio small colleges, playing lax. We weren’t interested in scheduling Syracuse or Navy
Some of those places were too cool even for movie sets. Beyond the ideal dream of a small, upscale college in a small, prosperous Midwest town.
The Lettermen–remember them?–could have used them as backdrops for their biennial release of college standards.
But there was the college, and there was the town.

In later years, in the Army, I must have heard.”…. College, an island of civilization in sea of ignorance/barbarism/etc” a dozen times.

From which, and from more current information as to Oberlin’s relations with the town, and a “culture of theft”, I find it entirely understandable that Oberlin reacted with genuine outrage that the lower orders objected to being victimized by their overlords. Direction and planning came later.

“Your Honor, it´s despicable that the Gibsons’ lawyers each spent $280 a day in hotels when they could have perfectly stayed at the local rat-infested Motel 6 right next to the freeway for a low rate of $50 a night.”
-OC lawyer

Judge: “At what hotel did YOU stay last night, counselor”

“That information is confidential, judge”
-OC lawyer

They just won’t stop digging, will they?

    neurodoc in reply to cucha. | July 14, 2019 at 2:51 am

    You’re kidding, right, imitating Dick Durbin questioning Mark Zuckerberg when they called him to testify?

    PI attorneys have to be exquisitely sensitive to how they come across to judges and jurors, their livelihoods depend on the impressions they make. Defense should be too, but their bills will be paid even if they aren’t. OC’s counsel seems rather tone deaf. Why didn’t they have their expert testify the the value of Gibson’s business was something like $250K or even higher rather than the ridiculous $35K they maintained, which surely must have gone over like a lead balloon with the court. OC’s low-ball number may have served to inflame the jury, like it’s stupid dispute of the out-of-towners’ hotel bills.

    It was reasonable for OC’s lawyers to bill as many hours as they did, but unreasonable for P’s to bill about the same number? WTF?

    And while we are castigating OC for its decisions, quite rightly, what about their insurance carrier(s)? Carriers usually have major input in settlement discussions and don’t let their Ds take them over the cliff because they are certain they are right and will win at trial.

    Plus, don’t give all the “credit” for this disaster to Twilley Ambar, the Columbia Law grad with triplets at home to think about. Her predecessor, Marvin Krislov, the Yale-Rhodes Scholar-Yale guy who proved himself a real pusillanimous worm in the Joy Karega matter, then jumped ship for a cool $1M/year at less prestigious Pace, set the stage for what was to follow. And Raimondo plus other administrators plus the trustees should be acknowledged too. Raimondo did much to make Gibson’s case, so much that they should be grateful to her personally for the help, though it was meant to be helpful.

Those interested in the would be fate of Oberlin College visit Yellow Springs ohio. Fate and justice are but a short drive for viewing!

Antioch U (college) Yellow Springs, Ohio 2017 undergrad total 41

“They based that on a Zagrans’ testimony that he thought that Gibson’s attorneys spent too much on hotel expenses and their hourly rates that were way too high for a little town like Elyria, Ohio.”

OC’s attorneys worked relatively the same hours for what would have about the same money. Yet, they claim that for a little town Gibson’s attorneys should charge less. They are implying that the Gibson’s lawyers weren’t as good as them. Yet, they got their a$$ kicked.

    neurodoc in reply to rayc. | July 14, 2019 at 2:56 am

    The word is usually transliterated as “chutzpah,” though pronounced more in keeping with your spelling. In any event, you have the concept right and it does apply with respect to the D’s case.

blacksburger | July 12, 2019 at 6:23 pm

I wonder whether Aladin told the college authorities the truth about what happened. The college has made various statements which imply that Aladin was innocent, that Gibson had launched himself against him while he was innocently standing in the store. Apparently many students believe this is what happened. At the trial the college was asked if they had made an independent investigation, and they said they hadn’t. They may have thought it would be racist to question Aladin’s story.

    AlexanderYpsilantis in reply to blacksburger. | July 13, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    Whatever he told them was a lie. If any lessons were learned by OC, it’s that they need to raise the quality and character of the students they recruit. At the end of the day, that creep cost them 10’s of millions of Dollars.

AlexanderYpsilantis | July 13, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Just pay the bill, Twilley. Just pay the bill.

Every moment they delay, the bill gets higher.

Regarding Aladin and the other two perps, do we know if the school disciplined them in any way? Twilley is insistently vague about what the students did and pleaded guilty in court. Something about different, equally valid co-existing truths though incompatible, if neuodoc understands what she has said. (Neurodoc doesn’t, BTW, but that’s no doubt a reflection of his lack of enlightment.)

    I have obtained the police report on the Gibson’s robbery. It is posted on my blog in PDF format at This police report is quite specific about what actually happened and it is enough to make you want to puke. Contrary to some stories being circulated on the campus, Aladin sounds like a pretty rough dude. The incident details make it clear that the Oberlin prosecutor had good cause to kick the matter up to Elyria rather than handle it locally in Oberlin.

    The police report appears to be accurate, complete, and fair.

    /s/ JD Nobody, OC ’61.

Read the foxes’ version of what happened in Gibson’s Henhouse as told to selected Oberlin Alumni re Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College. This post, by JD Nobody, OC ’61, at presents the Oberlin Foxes’ material and asks important supplementary questions. It is made available for the many alumni who were excluded from the conference call of June 27. 2019.

McGraw’s featured image for this post shows Allyn Gibson wearing a neck brace. McGraw does not mention that Gibson suffered a broken neck as a result of two separate attempted break-ins on the same night at two separate Gibson residences.

The Oberlin Police report and details about this incident are included in my earlier referenced post at

McGraw also does not mention that the income disparity in Oberlin is the most extreme in Lorain County – a factor in the high incidence of robberies. Oberlin is a distinct socio-economic Lorain County bubble containing two smaller bubbles of extreme wealth that are in stark contrast to the poverty in the rest of the over-arching bubble.

Oberlin College and Kendal at Oberlin are both populated with people who see themselves as just ordinary Joes just like everyone else. They are indeed ordinary Joes within their cloistered circles. These ordinary people will spend as much money on one nice restaurant meal for themselves as some of Oberlin’s less privileged spend on food for a week.

Now you can deny all knowledge of the points in this post just by saying in all honesty “Nobody told me”!

/s/ JD Nobody