The law firms that represented Gibson’s Bakery and its owners in a lawsuit against Oberlin College have been awarded approximately $6.5 million in attorney fees by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi.
Last month, Gibson’s Bakery won a $44 million jury verdict for libel and wrongful business interference over Oberlin’s involvement in student protests that labeled the bakery racist after three black students were arrested for shoplifting in November 2016.
The $44 million judgment was later reduced to $25 million under Ohio’s tort-cap law, but the enormous award has fueled a debate over the responsibility of colleges in protecting student free speech versus promoting an overheated social-justice protest narrative.
According to a report by Legal Insurrection, a Ohio court ordered Oberlin College to pay more than $6.5 million in legal fees and expenses for the recent case that resulted in a massive $25 million judgement in favor of local Gibson’s Bakery.
The fees will be split between the law firms of Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty; Tzangas Plakas Mannos; and attorney James N. Taylor of Elyria.
Lee Plakas, one of the lead attorneys for the Gibsons, said Thursday that Miraldi’s decision “keeps the courthouse doors open” for small businesses and individuals who otherwise “would not be able to withstand the power and resources” of an institution like Oberlin College.
“The jury’s verdict opened the eyes of a nation to recognize the college’s need to have an adult in the room,” he said.
Attorney Ronald Holman, who represented Oberlin College, referred all questions to college officials Thursday. Oberlin College had no official comment on the matter, spokesman Scott Wargo said.
Attorneys for the Gibsons initially sought between $9.5 million and $14.5 million in fees and more than $404,000 to reimburse them for expenses incurred while representing the Gibsons. Their representation amounted to more than 14,400 billable hours between April 2017 and this month.
The court’s order states that Oberlin College will be responsible for $6,565,531 in legal fees and expenses. The order includes a complex calculation which takes into consideration the 14,417 billable hours that Gibson’s Bakery’s attorneys spent on the case.
In addition to attorneys’ fees, Plaintiffs’ also seek $404,139.22 in litigation expenses. Defendants and their expert believe Plaintiffs’ proposed expenses are excessive and that several categories are not properly includable as expenses. Defendants believe the proper amount of litigation expenses total $241,247.84. This Court agrees that the expenses should be limited, albeit not to the extent requested by Defendants….
Therefore, in addition to attorneys’ fees of $6,271,395.00, Plaintiffs are hereby awarded the above litigation expenses, which total $294,136.79. In addition court costs are assessed to the Defendants…
The attorneys for Gibson’s Bakery will also take a 40 percent contingency fee, meaning that they will take $10 million out of the $25 million verdict. William A. Jacobson, professor of law at Cornell University and author of the Legal Insurrection report, claims that the Gibson family is likely to collect the $6.5 million attorney’s fee.
“My assumption is that the attorney’s fees awarded by the court are not subject to the contingent fee. So if and when the judgment is collected, and putting aside interest on the judgment, the lawyers get $10 million out of the $25 million, and the Gibson’s get the roughly $6.3 million attorney fee award,” Jacobson wrote. “So the Gibson’s walk away with $15 million on the judgment and plus the attorney’s fees, totaling between $21-22 million.”