Bradenton attorney Mark Lipinski died July 14. HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVE / 2001 / THOMAS BENDER
BRADENTON — Everyone went to Mark Lipinski’s office, it seemed. It was like a lounge for lawyers. Defense attorneys, prosecutors, sometimes even judges popped in. They would ask the most complicated legal questions and he always had the answers, but sometimes they came just to hear his rich, bellowing laugh.
They often sat around the long table in his conference room. It had impeccable woodworking, done as payment by a bank robber he once represented. A dog left to him by another client was often at his side. He kept volumes of black books, full of handwritten case law, and no one remembers seeing anything quite like that before.
But Thursday was different at Lipinski’s office. Those who stopped by were informed of his death.
Lipinski, one of the most recognizable private defense attorneys in the area, was found dead in his Bradenton home Thursday morning and it was a shocking blow to the community. The cause of his death was not known. He was 65.
“I don’t know where we are going to go now," Sarasota attorney Derek Byrd said. “I don’t know who we’re going to ask questions to. He was that guy and he will be missed."
Lipinski was born in Chicago, graduated from the University of Florida law school, came to the area and then worked with such distinguished local attorneys as Henry Trawick, Jerome Pratt and Larry Byrd, Derek Byrd's father, who gave Lipinski his first job.
Derek Byrd’s first job, meanwhile, was working for Lipinski, who opened his own practice in Manatee County in 1990. Byrd said he was so smart, he nearly aced the bar exam.
“Mark was widely considered one of the great legal minds in our business," Byrd said. “He was like a walking law library."
Private investigator Leo Martinez sat at the conference table in Lipinski’s office Wednesday afternoon and said Lipinski looked fine. He complained of no illnesses as they discussed a case.
Martinez rented office space from Lipinski in the downtown Bradenton building he owned, and when he pulled into work Thursday morning, he learned of Lipinski’s passing. A former FBI agent, Martinez had known Lipinski for 18 years. He remained in his car for quite a while before exiting, shocked by the news.
“He was a gentleman, a great guy," Martinez said. “Very cerebral, thoughtful and intelligent."
Martinez was having lunch last week at Cracker Barrel with Colonel Rick Wells of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office when Lipinski’s name came up. Wells, who will become sheriff on Jan. 3, has known Lipinski since the 1980s.
“He made us better investigators, that’s the bottom line," Wells said. “He helped prepare you to make sure your investigation was the best it could be. If it wasn’t, he was going to find issues and you were going to lose."
Martinez says it was not uncommon for Lipinski to work seven days a week, up to 15 hours a day, and many people were concerned about his health.
Lipinski lost sight in his right eye several years ago and had it removed, but he never slowed down.
“Mark was dedicated to his craft," said assistant state attorney Dawn Buff, who last saw Lipinski Tuesday. “He spent extensive time in his office and insufficient time for himself. I always told him he needed to slow down, enjoy life."
Derek Byrd expressed the same concern to Lipinski.
“The guy loved being a lawyer more than anyone I know," Byrd said. “In that vein I have a lot of respect for him. On the other hand, as a friend, I wish he had enjoyed the fruits of his labor more."
Services for Lipinski had not yet been set as of Thursday evening.