Cornell University may have its work cut out for it should it ever find itself in a position similar to the one Oberlin College faced after students accused a local bakery of racism for trying to stop a shoplifter.
That’s because Cornell’s recently appointed general counsel Donica Thomas Varner is Oberlin’s current general counsel and was responsible for defending the college during the disastrous Gibson Bakery scandal, which resulted in a $44 million libel verdict against Oberlin. Legal Insurrection’s William A. Jacobson, a clinical professor of law and director of Cornell’s Securities Law Clinic, reported last week that Varner was named Cornell’s new general counsel, even though she is currently best known for sending an inflammatory email criticizing the jury’s decision to award Gibson’s Bakery $11.2 million in compensatory damages. The email was sent after this decision but before a separate trial awarded the bakery an additional $33 million.
“We are disappointed with the verdict and regret that the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented. Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student protests,” Varner wrote. “As we have stated, colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students. Institutions of higher education are obligated to protect freedom of speech on their campuses and respect their students’ decision to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights. Oberlin College acted in accordance with these obligations.”
Jacobson wrote at the time that Varner’s attack on the jury, insisting the complete opposite of what the evidence showed, would end up hurting Oberlin – and he was right.
The email so inflamed the court it became an issue, Jacobson reported, with Varner being asked questions about her statements.
Oberlin is still appealing the verdict.
“As Oberlin College General Counsel, Varner was the key legal person overseeing the Gibson’s Bakery litigation. That is hardly a positive considering how the case was mishandled (regardless of what happens on the appeal),” Jacobson wrote.
The Daily Wire previously reported extensively on the Oberlin case. Several non-white Oberlin students attempted to steal alcohol from Gibson’s, a local bakery with a long history of serving the Oberlin community. A Gibson family member who was working at the bakery that day chased the students out of the store, where they attacked him. He called the police and the students were arrested, pleading guilty and admitting race had nothing to do with the incident.
But other students and faculty accused the bakery of racism and staged protests outside, with Oberlin officials fully endorsing and supporting the protesters’ (false) narrative. Further, while Oberlin claimed in court the protests were peaceful, some demonstrators actually entered the bakery and harassed customers, taking pictures of them and making disparaging comments to them. They also blocked customers from moving down the aisles and slashed the tires of a store employee.
Behind the scenes, Oberlin administrators trashed the bakery and anyone who defended them, calling defenders “idiots” and saying “F***” them.
The Gibson’s home was broken into months after the protests (though it is unclear whether it was related), with the elderly patriarch breaking bones in his neck. Business dropped and employees were laid-off. The family was threatened.
Evidence and testimony at trial backed up Gibson’s plight, yet Varner still sent that email, beyond what losing attorneys typically say after losing. Varner’s email may well have cost the college another $30 million, yet she was rewarded with a new job at Cornell.