Gibson’s Bakery co-owner David Gibson is fighting pancreatic cancer, he announced in a video posted Tuesday to the bakery’s Facebook page.
He also said he believes Oberlin College is trying to wait until he and his 91-year-old father are dead as the two sides continue to battle in court in a case that resulted in the largest monetary award for libel in Ohio history.
Doing so wouldn’t absolve the college of having to pay if it loses or exhausts all its appeals, according to an experienced First Amendment attorney who has been following the case.
In the video, David Gibson also thanked all those who took time to reach out and support and encourage him and his family during the six-week trial earlier this summer that ended with a jury awarding him, his father, Allyn Gibson, and their bakery more than $44 million in damages from Oberlin College.
Jurors found that the college defamed the business and its co-owners and interfered with the business following two days of student protests in November 2016. The judgment later was reduced to $25 million by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi, who also awarded $6.5 million in attorney’s fees to the Gibsons.
Attorneys for Oberlin College said in court they plan to appeal the verdict, and the college posted a $36 million bond in advance of that action.
Attorneys for the Gibsons also have said they intend to appeal, seeking to have the Ohio statute on damage caps for libel and slander ruled unconstitutional.
Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar said: “Oberlin College wishes Dave Gibson well as he battles pancreatic cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”
In the video, David Gibson said he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year.
“As we’ve been going through this legal battle, I’ve been going through a personal battle,” he said. “Once the next round of my treatments begins, I know this will be impossible to hide any longer, so I wanted you to hear it from me.”
David Gibson said the college has known of his diagnosis since February, and both sides agreed it wouldn’t come up at trial.
“I wanted the jury to decide this case on the facts alone,” he said.
David Gibson also said the support, kind words and encouragement shows that many people care about the family and the bakery, which has been in Oberlin for more than 100 years.
“The fight has always been about sending the message that the truth still matters, and doing the right thing, even when it’s difficult, is important no matter who you are or where you live,” David Gibson said.
He also said that Ambar recently announced that from the college’s perspective, the jury verdict “is just the first round of what’s going to be a long and difficult battle.”
“But recent public statements from Oberlin College make it clear that the college is refusing to accept the jury’s decision. The college has stated that the verdict is just the beginning of a long legal process, and I believe they’re sending a clear message to me and to my 91-year-old dad that they will just wait us out,” David Gibson said. “But I’ll do everything I can to make sure I see this through, and even if I’m not able to see the end of this battle, our family is committed to continue serving the Oberlin community, just as we have for the past 134 years.”
David Gibson then thanked all his supporters, members of the Oberlin College community “who aren’t afraid of saying or doing the right thing,” the jury and “the American justice system that enables a David to stand up to the Goliath.”
“And most importantly, thank you for your prayers,” he said.
Veteran First Amendment attorney and certified appellate law specialist David Marburger, who has been following the case, said Tuesday there is “no chance” Oberlin College is waiting for David Gibson or Allyn Gibson to die so it can avoid paying them.
The judgment won by the family and the bakery doesn’t go away, but would revert to David Gibson’s estate if he were to die prior to the final resolution of the case, Marburger said.
The college already had to put up a “hugely expensive” appeals bond in the case, Marburger said. The bond required totaled $36 million and was ordered by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi while the college explores its appeal options.
Marburger called the bond system in Ohio antiquated, and favoring the rich and “well-monied” who can afford the bonds. In some states, the notice of appeal alone is security against the court’s final judgment, he said.
“The bond guarantees if you lose on appeal, there will be enough to pay on the judgment,” he said. “Only a small number of private companies issue these bonds ... but there’s damn few places that will do appeal bonds. Many require you to provide the full amount (of the judgment) plus 5 percent annually.”
Marburger also said he believes Oberlin College has more than enough grounds for appeal as the case stands today.
“I think the judgment is more than challengeable and vulnerable,” he said. “There’s no way if I were Oberlin College that I would acquiesce to that judgment.”
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