ELYRIA — Oberlin College has asked a judge to move the case involving a lawsuit filed by Gibson’s Bakery to Cuyahoga County because it doesn’t believe it can get a fair trial in Lorain County due to media coverage.
“Due to the extensive and pervasive news coverage in this case and in the incidents and events giving rise to this action, as well as accusations and negative comments from the public at-large regarding the defendants, Oberlin College and Dr. (Meredith) Raimondo cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in Lorain County,” a motion filed in Lorain County Common Pleas Court Thursday said.
Gibson’s sued the college and Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, for libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and trespass.
The rift between the bakery and the college began last year when a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID from Allyn Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson.
The police report said Allyn Gibson told Jonathan Aladin he was calling the police and not to leave. Gibson said he then took out his phone to take a photo of Aladin, and Aladin slapped the phone from his hand and the device hit Gibson in the face. Police have said Aladin then ran from the store, dropping the two bottles of wine to the floor.
Allyn Gibson chased after Aladin, and the two men got into a physical confrontation outside. When police arrived, they reported seeing Allyn Gibson on the ground with Aladin and the two other students charged, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, hitting him.
The incident became racially charged because Allyn Gibson is white and the students are black. All three students pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.
The bakery claims it has suffered a loss of business as a result of the protests by Oberlin College students and community members that ensued after the incident.
“They also assert that Oberlin College spearheaded the protests and defamed them by creating and distributing an allegedly defamatory flyer — all of which caused purported financial harm to Gibson’s Bakery,” the motion filed Thursday said.
The motion to transfer venue claims that media coverage within Lorain County of the case and the events giving rise to it “has been sensationalized and has not been accurate or impartial.”
“In fact, The Chronicle-Telegram ranked this lawsuit and the events giving rise to it as the fifth-most impactful news story in Lorain County in 2017,” the motion said. “The consequential nature of this lawsuit and related incidents is highlighted by the fact that the top two most critical news stories included national issues such as deportations and the opioid crisis.”
The motion claims the jury pool in Lorain County has been poisoned and the college and Raimondo cannot receive a fair and impartial trial in the county.
“The concern is not the amount of media coverage or community interest, but rather the lack of balanced views represented in posted comments in the local newspapers that undeniably reflect this conclusion: the jury pool has been biased by initial reporting and opinions expressed upon inaccurate information,” the motion said.
The motion lists what it terms “disturbing” comments, such as “I hope Gibsons wins this lawsuit,” “Gotta go with a jury trial…juries can multiply damages,” “Good! I hope the owners of the store win and win big-time,” and “Hope they win…Take down the Clown College.”
The motion also said the defendants “are sensitive to the long-standing, complex, and at times strained, relationship between the city of Oberlin and the college.”
The college states that grating the motion will ensure the college and Raimondo receive “the fair and impartial trial to which they are entitled and further ensure that they will avoid the severe prejudice of an unfair and partial trail if this suit proceeds in Lorain County.”
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