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Media Aligned With Oberlin College Take Quest To Unseal Gibson’s Bakery Store Clerk’s Facebook Records To Ohio Supreme Court

Media Aligned With Oberlin College Take Quest To Unseal Gibson’s Bakery Store Clerk’s Facebook Records To Ohio Supreme Court

The attempt to unseal confidential Facebook records not used at trial is an assault not just on the Gibson family’s reputation, but on the practice of consensual confidentiality agreements that avoids the court system being bogged down in discovery motion practice.

A few days ago I posted about an Ohio appeals court’s dismissal of an appeal by Cleveland media interests seeking to unseal the confidential Facebook records of Allyn D. Gibson. Allyn was the store clerk who stopped an Oberlin College black student shoplifter that led to the false accusations of racial profiling and the court case that resulted in a massive compensatory and punitive damages verdict against Oberlin College. The appeal on the money verdict is still pending.

In that post, I noted that the appeals court found that the media interests used the wrong procedure of a direct appeal, when they needed to seek a Writ of Mandamus ordering the trial court to unseal the records. In an Update to that post, I noted that one of the litigants, WEWS-TV, had in fact filed a Complaint for Writ of Mandamus in the Ohio Supreme Court (docket), and that the case was referred to mediation. That mediation referral caught the attention of the Oberlin Chronicle-Telegram. Several readers forward the article to me and asked my take.

I don’t read much into that referral to mediation, which strikes me as something appeals courts routinely do. I can’t see mediation being successful in this circumstance, but courts require litigants to try. Interestingly, the case is WEWS-TV against the trial court. I assume the Gibson family lawyers, the ones who represented Allyn on the appeal, will move to intervene or at least be heard.

I see two big takeaways here.

BIG TAKEAWAY NO.1 –  OBERLIN COLLEGE’S FRIENDS DOING ITS DIRTY WORK

Big Takeaway No. 1 is that the war on the Gibson’s continues by every means available. That was my initial take back on November 8, 2019, Cleveland Media Seek Access To Gibson’s Bakery Store Clerk’s Sealed Facebook Records in Oberlin College Case, But Why?

So what’s really going on here?

When I first saw the docket entry in the case, my immediate reaction was that this is not what it appears to be. Neither News 5 Cleveland nor Cleveland.com played a major role in media coverage; searches of their websites reveal little original reporting, and heavy regurgitation of AP and Chronicle-Telegram reporting. Why do THEY care?

Moreover, there are many other documents, some potentially embarrassing to Oberlin College, that were filed under seal and the unsealing of which is not sought by the Media Movants. You can read a compilation I put together of docket entries regarding sealed documents.

Why, of all the media outlets out there, do two small media players in the Gibson’s case care so much? And why, of all the sealed documents, do the Media Movants care so much about about an Exhibit to a Reply Brief that played no role in the jury verdict?

And why did they wait until 4 months after the verdict, and over a month after the prior court ruling, to jump into the case? If Exhibit G is so important to the public interest, you’d think the Media Movants would have, at minimum, filed their motion when Oberlin College did so the court could consider the issue once, instead of seeking what amounts to a motion for reconsideration by other means.

Why is it that these Cleveland media outlets appear to be trying to rescue Oberlin College’s post-trial media strategy?

Maybe it’s just coincidence.

But as the saying goes, I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night. Let’s see how this plays out.

In a subsequent post, I noted:

Several readers made points similar to this comment:

Well, it’s fairly obvious what’s going on here. Oberlin has friends in certain media outlets that are willing to allow their organizations to be dragged through the dirt in a back handed attempt to get “Exhibit G” released so that Oberlin can use it in their persecution of the Gibson family.

Hopefully the judge will see the motion for what it is and categorically deny the release of Exhibit G.

P.S. I don’t believe in coincidence. This is a set-up by Oberlin to gain access to what has previously been denied them by the Judge. Nothing more, nothing less.

With this historical analogy pointed out by a commenter:

This is an obamaesque tactic. Obama twice defeated opponents by having newspaper surrogates (David Axelrod) assert there was some sort of public interest involved in unsealing sealed divorce records.

Nothing I’ve seen changes my view. In fact, after this original take it became known Oberlin College’s lead trial counsel used to be a legal commentator at WEWS-TV. Do you believe that WEWS-TV has taken such a hard interest in the case because it’s interested in doing journalism?

BIG TAKEAWAY NO. 2 – UNSEALING THE RECORDS WOULD UNDERMINE TO THE LITIGATION PROCESS

My Big Takeway No. 2 is that if the Ohio Supreme Court grants this Writ, and orders the trial court to unseal the records, it would severely undermine the normal court discovery process.

It is routine that litigants or subpoenaed non-parties, in order to avoid burdeing the court system with motions as to what documents need to be turned over to the other side, enter into confidentiality agreements. That allows parties to turn material over with the comfort that producing the documents would not make the documents public record. Without this consensual process, courts would be buried in motion practice.

What Oberlin College tried to do when it moved to unseal the records, and what WEWS-TV is doing now, is saying that merely because the records were filed under seal as an attachment to a motion, the records now become public if a media entity asks for them. Remember, these records were not even offered as exhibits at trial, and Allyn was not a witness or a party.

If the records were turned over to the media under these circumstances, litigants would have no reason to cooperate in discovery through confidentiality agreements. If an opposing party (here, Oberlin College) wanted to make confidential records public, it could merely file them under seal, then get a friendly media outlet to petition the court to unseal the records even if the records played no role in the ultimate verdict.

I’m not sure this point came out as clearly as it could have in the prior briefing. This is an assault not just on the Gibson family’s reputation, but on the practice of consensual confidentiality agreements that avoids the court system being bogged down in discovery motion practice.

[Featured Image: Four generations of Gibsons after Jury Verdict, Store Clerk Allyn D. Gibson, Second From Right][Photo Credit Legal Insurrection Foundation]

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Comments

wonder if they would be so interested in releasing the facebook records if the court order to release all facebooks records of everyone involved in the case, Oberlin college students facility, and reporters involved

Didn’t add the fact that even “black robes” take the side of the oppressors & the corrupt media-ites…
Zer justice is not blind here in what used to be the land of the free.

JusticeDelivered | July 26, 2021 at 9:55 pm

I feel sorry for Oberlin the community, they are excessively dependent on Oberlin College, still I would like to see Oberlin College fail. I also think that Soros is probably underwriting this.

OwenKellogg-Engineer | July 26, 2021 at 10:52 pm

One would think, if WEWS-TV was saavy enough, to ask for all sealed records, Gibson AND Oberlin, for fair reporting of course, and then let their devious writers have at it. But it appears as the Professor says, they waited too long, and have only asked for just this one account. Me thinks this was a Hail Mary play, and not a good attempt at that

    I get the sense they’re hoping that by obsessing on this one thing they can stir up the woke mob despite losing in all these appeals — in hopes of putting the Gibsons out of business.

    This is pure revenge-seeking for the Gibsons having won their case on the merits, an attempt to intimidate future prospective targets against fighting back no matter how strong their case might be.

      JusticeDelivered in reply to McGehee. | July 27, 2021 at 3:43 pm

      It is my understanding that Oberlin College covets Gibson’s real estate, and does not want to pay a fair price. The way the college is going, they are unlikely to need any more property.

George_Kaplan | July 26, 2021 at 11:43 pm

Is there any reason a conservative media establishment couldn’t join the fun and ask for Oberlin’s documents to be unsealed as a matter of public interest?

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander right?

Following this now, in light of all that has happened, is a touch surreal.

Ultimately, Oberlin appears to be trying to run out the clock, throwing suite after counter suite at it, hoping that one of them will stick, or at least kick the can down the road to another day.

The weirdest thing is, I think they might actually manage it, simply through stalling until the rest of the world explodes and the college is wiped away in the conflagration.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I suspect that things are not going well for Oberlin behind the scenes.

Meredith Raimondo, the person who caused most of these events as Vice President and Dean of Students, announced that she was leaving her position and then abruptly left in April six weeks before she was supposed to. Her replacement was hired and then a few months later also resigned. And Associate Deans in the Division of Student Life have been leaving as well — five deans have left in the last three months!

Oberlin’s Division of Student Life does not seem a happy place right now.

I was in Oberlin three weeks ago en route via car to Boston. We stayed at the Oberlin Hotel ( formerly the Oberlin Inn) which shares a building with, I’m not kidding, the Admissions Office. The landscaping surrounding the building is an installation (heh) meant to evoke great affection for Gaia. It was designed by Maya Lin. We stopped at Gibsons and David’s widow was running the store. The apple fritters are still awesome, but the town is running on empty. I imagine the Admissions Office has a a two-for-one deal going on, commit to Oberlin and get a free night’s stay in our state-of-the-art hotel, fitness room and continetal breakfast included!

    ss396 in reply to SNAB. | July 27, 2021 at 9:46 am

    Summers are always a tough go in small college towns, even as mountain tourist towns go empty during winters. All their traffic is absent. Nowadays, with admissions in decline and students all zoom-schooling, I would guess that college towns across the nation are having tighter times than usual, though.

      SNAB in reply to ss396. | July 28, 2021 at 10:01 am

      I graduated from Oberlin, unfortunately, and spent a summer working there between my junior and senior years. Summer in Oberlin was not like the two days I was there three weeks ago; the town is clearly flat lining. The mood is somber. I think the college is trying to eat its host.

        MajorWood in reply to SNAB. | August 2, 2021 at 1:38 am

        Most colleges rent their facilities over the summer for corporate retreats and other events. WuFlu has prevented this for two years since they require a lot of planning and prep work which no one will commit to given the likelihood of some tyrant shutting everything down in the event someone sneezes. It is just another income stream that was lost. IIRC, wasn’t oberlin planning a trimester system with (3) 14 wk sessions with 2000 students vs (2) sessions with 3000 students like a normal year. If so, then a vsit to Oberlin in the summer should have had the place teeming unless one was there in an inter-session period.

smalltownoklahoman | July 27, 2021 at 9:37 am

Well hopefully Ohio’s Supreme Court will slap this down as well.

Jack Phillips is still tied up in courts, even though his case went all the way up to the Supreme Court – who did him no favors with that cowardly narrow ruling.

The process is the punishment: how dare you win against a lefty hot-button!

Has the school had to pay any money to the Gibsons yet? How long can this litigation show go on before the curtain finally drops? Will Oberlin have to pay post-judgment interest on the total award in the end?

Will insurance take care of some of the compensatory damages? (Presumably, the Ps got to ask Oberlin at the start of the case how much there was in insurance.) We know that if punitives hold up on appeal, no insurance will pay those.

The only question which needs be asked, and this is a highly technical legal argument which will determine the outcome on this motion, is how many Dems are on the Ohio Supreme Court?

Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery are private institutions. How are the local media a party to a lawsuit between two other private parties?

    Milhouse in reply to tbonesays. | July 28, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    They aren’t. That’s why they weren’t given the material in the first place. But like anyone, they have the right to see anything that is filed with a court in any case, unless there is a strong reason for the court to seal it. They’re challenging the reason here.

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