One of the most disturbing aspects of the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case has been the almost obsessive demonization of Gibson’s Bakery and its owners by the college.

It started not just during the protests and pre-litigation interactions that gave rise to the lawsuit, but in the Answer filed by the defendants in response to the lawsuit.

I wrote at the time, on December 13, 2017, Oberlin College lashes out at Gibson’s Bakery, portrays itself as victim:

Oberlin and Raimondo seek to portray the College as the victim in this scenario, including the confessed shoplifters. I can’t imagine, based on what is publicly available, this will work.

This approach didn’t work.

The defense was tone deaf at best, something I mentioned numerous times during the trial: “from the start of this case I have questioned the aggressive and demeaning attacks on the Gibsons as a defense strategy,” and “I’m still shaking my head at the tone-deafness of the defense in belittling this family business.”

Jury verdicts in favor of Gibson’s Bakery and its owners reflected the weakness of the defense attacks: $11 million compensatory damages rendered on June 7, 2019, and $33 million in punitive damages rendered on June 13, 2019, after a separate punitive damages trial. The combined $44 million was reduced by the Court under Ohio’s tort caps to just over $25 million. The Court also awarded over $6.5 million in legal fees and costs against defendants on top of the damages. Defendants were required to post a $36 million bond to secure the judgment pending appeal.

Oberlin College has lawyered-up to fight the appeal, Oberlin College hires high-powered D.C. lawyers to appeal Gibson’s Bakery verdict. In response, Gibson’s Bakery files cross-appeal to restore full $44 million verdict against Oberlin College.

For now, the battle is being fought in the court of public opinion. And the college’s aggressiveness in attacking the Gibsons has not changed, with suggestions by the college, wink, wink, that the Gibsons probably are racist even if the college wasn’t allowed to prove it in court. As part of this effort, after the trial was over, the Judge rejected Oberlin College’s request to unseal Gibson Bakery store clerk’s Facebook records:

There have been many strange motions and actions in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case. A post-trial motion by Oberlin College to unseal Facebook records may be one of the more strange developments, and offers a window into the bitter feelings of college officials.

Allyn D. Gibson (Allyn D.) is the grandson of plaintiff Allyn W. Gibson (“Allyn W.”) and the son of plaintiff David Gibson. Allyn D., who was not a party in the lawsuit, was the store clerk on duty who caught an Oberlin College student shoplifting….

During the case, Allyn D.’s Facebook records were subpoenaed by Oberlin College, and had to be maintained in a confidential manner under a discovery agreement. The documents were then filed under seal by Oberlin College as part of its summary judgment motion as Exhibit G. The summary judgment motion was granted in part and denied in part, with the key claims surviving for trial.

In a pre-trial ruling, the court held the Facebook records could not be used as character evidence, but the court left open that if trial testimony made the records relevant, defendants could attempt to introduce them at trial. Allyn D. never testified at the trial, and defendants never offered the Facebook records as exhibits during the trial.

The Gibsons’ attorneys zeroed in on the purpose of unsealing the younger Gibson’s Facebook records:

It appears that Defendants are using their Motion as an improper collateral attack on the jury’s verdict. In essence, because Defendants are unhappy with the jury’s decision, they are seeking to unseal ADG’s private social media account, so they are able to publish these documents to the media without threat of the Court’s contempt power in an effort to continue the smear and defamation of Plaintiffs’ name and brand. Defendants’ attempted abuse of process should not be permitted.

* * *

Defendants’ sole motive in seeking to unseal the Confidential Materials is to continue the smear on Plaintiffs’ name and brand. They should not be permitted to do so.

Oberlin College appears to be unable to view the case from the perspective of the Gibsons, the community, or the jury. When I appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight on October 31, 2019, I described Oberlin College’s “almost sociopathic malevolence” towards Gibson’s Bakery:

WAJ: …. They are continuing to fight it. They have appealed it. They’re continuing to attack the bakery.

In fact, in a really extraordinary move after the trial was over, they tried to get unsealed Facebook records from one of the Gibson’s children. The clerk who stopped the students, who wasn’t a party, didn’t testify. And why release these Facebook records? Is because Oberlin continues to demonize this small family bakery, refuses to accept any responsibility for what they did to them, and shows no remorse and they’re appealing it. They’ve hired additional lawyers for the appeal. They’ve already spent, or their insurers has spent, $5 million fighting this little bakery and they just cannot seem to accept it.

TUCKER: Shafting the little people. Oberlin, meanwhile for our viewers who aren’t aware of what it is, is like kind of the stereotype of the annoying liberal rich kid school. I mean, it’s not actually like a real college, but it’s incredibly expensive and they have a lot of money. Why don’t they just pay?

WAJ: Well, because you know, they have a reputation of being a little kooky lefty sort of school, but they’ve really shown a very cold heart here. They have been completely heartless towards this bakery. They have no empathy towards the bakery. It’s almost a sociopathic sort of malevolence towards this bakery because the bakery stood up to them. And it’s really bizarre. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I know a lot of alumni are very upset about it. And I would be too, if I were an Oberlin alum, because the value of your degree has been diminished by multiple administrations at Oberlin who simply want to crush this little family bakery and it makes no sense in any real world.

At the time of the Tucker appearance, I was not aware that CBS Sunday Morning had been preparing a segment by Ted Koppel about the case. A reader alerted me on November 1 to an article in the Chronicle-Telegram about the upcoming segment:

Award-winning broadcast journalist Ted Koppel was in Oberlin in early October conducting interviews for a CBS News Sunday Morning special on the November 2016 protests that led to a court case and $32 million judgment against the college last spring.

Interviews expected to be included in the program were done with Gibson’s Bakery owner David Gibson, his attorney Lee Plakas, Chronicle-Telegram reporter Dave O’Brien and members of the Oberlin community.

Video of Koppel’s video report is below, A protest against racism, and a $31.5 million defamation award.

[CBS News]

Koppel did a good job on the report, though I have some issues with it. In particular, the report tacitly buys into Oberlin College’s post-trial public relations campaign to portray this as a free speech issue, and to claim that Oberlin College unfairly was held liable for student speech and conduct. As pointed out before, that is not accurate. The Gibsons, as the jury instructions reflected, sought to hold the college liable for the speech and actions of college employees, particularly co-defendant Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, not for the speech or conduct of students.

In fairness to Koppel, at one point he did point out the involvement of college employees, particularly in handing out defamatory flyers, as an issue in the case.

[CBS News]

You should watch the entire 13-minute segment. It includes an interview with a female juror, who spoke to the impact of the testimony by David Gibson how his father, 92-year-old Allyn Gibson, feared he would die having been labeled a racist.

What jumped out at me was the interview with Carmen Twillie Ambar, Oberlin College’s president, who took over after the events at issue. In the interview, Ambar repeated what has become a core part of Oberlin College’s post-trial public relations campaign, the suggestion that Gibson’s Bakery may actually have engaged in racial profiling. It was couched in the interview as a perception issue, that students and faculty had a perception — their own truth and lived experience — of racial profiling.

Koppel seemed genuinely surprised by Ambar’s statements as to perceptions:

KOPPEL: …. But to this day, the president of Oberlin makes allusions to a pattern of racist behavior, if not the specific incident that set things off three years ago.

AMBAR Well, the students pled guilty to the shoplifting. Um, there has been some debate about whether it was shoplifting or  false ID.

KOPPEL: It was both.

AMBAR: Right. Well, I think that, that one of the things that the college has always said is that the college has not, doesn’t condone shoplifting, doesn’t condone bad behavior by its students in any way, shape or form. But what led up to the protest, and I think that’s sort of kind of the core issue here, was some series of things that happened before. Some perspectives about people’s experiences in the store.

KOPPEL: Tell me about, tell me about those then. And be specific. What specific incidents are you referring to that happened before?

AMBAR: Right, well, I think that the specific incidents would be, the perception by faculty and students and staff and other people in the town that there had been disparate treatment with respect to people of color in the store. The way I would phrase it, kind of different lived experiences.

DAVE O’BRIEN: This is all basically anecdotal evidence that people …

KOPPEL: Dave O’Brien covered the trials for the local paper, the Chronicle-Telegram

O’BRIEN: People commenting on a, on social media saying I had a, um, I, I felt, I felt uncomfortable in there. I felt like I was targeted because of the color of my skin.

There was no evidence presented in court supporting the claim of a long history of racial profiling, because no admissible evidence was offered.

Subjective feelings, perceptions, own truths, and lived experiences are not evidence supporting the truth of the matter asserted.

There was an interesting portion when Ambar clearly was uncomfortable, when Koppel pressed her as to what her reputation was worth:

KOPPEL: (Narration) What is a reputation worth? (Question to Ambar) You’re a very distinguished academic. What’s your reputation worth?

AMBAR: My reputation is important.

KOPPEL: It’s worth a lot, isn’t it? (Ambar shakes head Yes) I mean, if your reputation was destroyed overnight, you could hardly put a price on that could you.

AMBAR: Well, I certainly believe that reputations are important, but here’s what’s also true, and it’s the jury system that we have, right? And the legal system that we have. That we go through a legal process that makes that determination. And what the institution has said is that we believe that this determination was excessive.

Oberlin College still doesn’t get it.


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