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Change of Venue Due to Publicity?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

It's sometimes risky to ask for a change of venue based on pre-trial publicity.

In the internet age, it's very possible that people have heard about a high-profile case beyond the borders of one courthouse. Plus, potential jurors in another town may not be as sympathetic to a party in a case as those in the original venue.

So is it really a good idea for Oberlin College, a defendant in defamation/business interference case, to ask for a venue change to a courthouse 30 miles away?

Bakery Fight

Gibson's Bakery sued Orberlin College in Ohio after an altercation between college students and the baker's son last year. Allyn Gibson refused to sell alcohol to Jonathan Aladin, a student who tried to trick Gibson with a fake ID.

When Gibson took out his phone to call police, Aladin swatted the phone from his hand and ran off. Gibson chased him down, but two other students intervened.

When police arrived, they saw three students beating Gibson and arrested them. The students later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

But the case blew up into a racial issue in the local press because Gibson is white and the students are black. After protests at Oberlin College -- and with fewer students going to the bakery -- the Gibsons sued for defamation, interference with business, and other claims.

Pre-Trial Publicity

Oberlin College, a private, liberal arts school, has about 3,000 students. Orbelin, a city in Lorain County, is home to about 8,300 people.

Despite its prominence in the community, the college asked for a change of venue based on a "lack of balanced views in posted comments in local newspapers. "The motion cites "disturbing" comments, such as "I hope Gibsons wins this lawsuit," "Gotta go with a jury trial ... juries can multiply damages," and "Hope they win...Take down the Clown College."

Of course, the comments have also spread across the internet -- in part because of the motion. Still, the defendant wants to move the case to nearby Cuyahoga County.

In the meantime, the Lorain County judge denied the college's motion to dismiss.

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