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Cops and Courts

Closing arguments next week in Gibson's Bakery v. Oberlin College

  • 053119-GIBSONS-VS-OBERLIN-COLLEGE-KB01

    Richard Panza, an attorney representing Oberlin College, and Lee Pakas, an attorney representing Gibson's, meet with Judge John Miraldi on Friday afternoon, May 31 during testimony with Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

  • 053119-GIBSONS-VS-OBERLIN-COLLEGE-KB02

    Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar leaves the stand after finishing her testimony on Friday afternoon, May 31.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — Oberlin College has no desire to acquire Gibson’s Bakery or its building, college President Carmen Twillie Ambar said Friday.

Ambar took the stand Friday in the final day of testimony in the civil trial between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College, saying the college has “no desire” to acquire the family-owned bakery or any other businesses in Oberlin.

Instead, Ambar testified that the college has had discussions that its footprint is too large, and it may need to consolidate.

During testimony this week, attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery have brought up the fact that the college owns the majority of the property surrounding Tappan Square, which also is owned by the Oberlin College. The attorneys pointed out that the college took over ownership of the Apollo Theater, which had been a family-owned business for about 85 years prior.

Attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery said they believed that if Gibson’s Bakery were to close, the college would purchase it.

Ambar said that isn’t the case, and she also stated that the college purchased the Apollo Theater, which was a business that was losing money, to keep it open. She stated that having a theater in downtown Oberlin is good for the college and the community as a whole. She also said the college loses about $500,000 a year running the Apollo.

Gibson’s sued the college and the college’s Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo for libel, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass in 2017. The bakery also is suing the college for negligent hiring, retention and supervision.

The rift between the bakery and the college began in 2016 when a student tried to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from Allyn D. Gibson, who is the son of the bakery’s owner, David Gibson. Allyn D. Gibson followed the student out of the store, and the two got into a physical altercation.

Two other students got involved, and police have said when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn D. Gibson while he was on the ground.

Allyn D. Gibson is white and the students are black, and the incident escalated. All three students pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges and read statements into the record acknowledging that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.

In the two days following the shoplifting incident, Oberlin College students protested in front of the bakery and passed out the flyers urging people to boycott the bakery because of the bakery’s history of racial profiling. Oberlin College stopped ordering from the bakery after the protests before resuming in January 2017.

The college once again ceased ordering from Gibson’s after the lawsuit was filed in November 2017.

Ambar said she decided to cease ordering from Gibson’s after consulting with the college’s Board of Trustees.

“The rationale for doing it was a decision by one of your vendors to sue you is a decision to alter the relationship,” Ambar said. “It seemed appropriate to me to suspend that business and to frankly not support the business that was suing you.”

Most of Friday was the continuation of testimony of Sean Saari, a certified public accountant and certified valuation analyst with the business advisory firm Skoda Minotti. On Thursday and Friday, Saari disputed testimony by another CPA, Frank Monaco, who had testified earlier that Gibson’s Bakery and its owners had, and will, suffer $5.8 million in damages from the protests. Saari said he felt Gibson’s Bakery was worth only $35,000 and that the family’s other business interests had been unaffected by the 2016 protests.

When Owen Rarric, one of the attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery, had the opportunity to cross examine Saari, he immediately attacked the witness’ credibility as an expert witness.

“What year did you become an expert?” Rarric asked

“I started doing expert work in 2007,” Saari said.

“Before you were even a CPA?”

“At the same time, yeah,” Saari said. “As I was studying for a CPA, I was doing expert work, yes.”

“You were still in college at the time?” Rarric said.

“No, I had graduated from MBA school.”

“So you get your diploma, and you believe right then and there you became an expert,” Rarric said.

“I started doing expert work, yes.”

Rarric then asked Saari if he thought that gaining real-world experience would help develop expertise. Saari said he did, but he also felt that it also required “knowing how to do the work.”

“Would you agree with me that it’s helpful having seen a thing or two over the years to offer to gain expertise?” Rarric asked.

“Yeah, and I think I’ve seen a thing or two over the 1,000 or so engagements I’ve been a part of,” Saari said.

On Thursday, Saari had said he had testified as an expert four other times in court. On Friday on cross-examination, though, he said all four of those appearances had been for divorces.

After Ambar’s testimony, the attorneys for Oberlin College rested their case. Closing arguments are expected to take place either Wednesday or Thursday.

Contact Scott Mahoney at (440) 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.

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