Mark Lipinski, a private defense attorney known as a pillar of the community in Bradenton, was found dead in his home Thursday morning. He was 65.
News of Lipinski’s death spread quickly Thursday morning in the Manatee County courthouse. Assistant State Attorney Brian Chambers approached the bench to share the news with Circuit Judge Susan Maulucci.
“He was a pillar of the community,” Chambers said.
At 8:35 a.m., Manatee sheriff’s deputies had been called to Lipinski’s home in Northwest Bradenton after a co-worker had gone to check on him and found him dead in his home. Lipinski, who was due in court at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, was usually in much earlier.
Deputies confirmed Lipinski’s death and a standard death investigation is underway, although there were no suspicious circumstances found.
He shared the home with his wife, Marilee Lipinski, and their dogs.
Lipinski, originally from Chicago, opened his private practice in Bradenton in 1990 and has since defended a wide range of cases.
Before opening his own practice, Lipinski had shared a practice with Chris Pratt in Palmetto for eight years.
And for at least 30 years, they have been best friends, Pratt said Thursday afternoon.
“What I am happiest about is before I went home yesterday, I stopped by Mark’s office and spent 45 minutes with him, roaring with laughter,” Pratt said.
Those 45 minutes were shared telling both old and new stories. Pratt said he felt blessed to have that last memory with his friend.
One of Pratt’s favorite stories about Lipinski, recalled by others as well, was from one of the first criminal cases in which Pratt sat second chair to Lipinski in court in the 1980s.
“I was really just sitting in the chair holding Mark’s briefcase,” Pratt laughed.
Mark was questioning a snitch on the witness stand, and the snitch was on the verge of tears, Pratt recalled.
“Don’t cry Mr. ... it’s going to get worse,” Pratt remembered Lipinski saying to the witness, adding, “And it did.”
And that was because Lipinski, he said, knew the art in the practice of law.
“When Mark Lipinski had his A game going, it was as good as it gets,” Pratt said. “There’s lots of technicians that know how to do it, but Mark Lipinski did it well.”
But as good as an attorney as many proclaimed him to be, for Pratt he was an even better friend. When Pratt was still in law school, Lipinski – who worked for Pratt’s father’s firm – was always there for him.
“Mark is the kind of friend that if you need help, you don’t need to ask, instead he will come to you and say, ‘What can I do to help,’” Pratt said.
‘Larger than life’
Scarlett Guy, who joined Lipinski’s firm in 2009, spoke of the privilege she and others felt to have worked with an amazing, brilliant man.
“He was larger than life,” Guy said.
Guy remembers the first time she saw Lipinski years ago.
Lipinski had walked into the courtroom and, despite the presence of about 30 other defense attorneys, it was as if the seas parted for him.
“He would always tell these amazing stories that everyone wanted to hear,” she said.
Guy said many who went up against him in court took it as an opportunity to learn.
“It was neat to see all the seasoned officers who would say, ‘You know what, Mark Lipinski made me a better cop,’” she said.
Lipinski was her 3-year-old son’s godfather and her daughters adored them, she said. Just recently he had taken her children fishing, determined that his godson catch his first fish. Instead of one, he caught two on the same hook, Guy said, laughing.
Lipinski helped many other defense attorneys who were just getting their private practice started over the years. Often there would be two or three vacant offices in the second floor of their office building, Guy said, and Lipinski would let attorneys starting out stay there rent-free.
Mentor to many
Defense attorney Brett McIntosh was at a loss for words when he first heard Thursday morning about the death of the man he considered his mentor. Later on, he shared the first time the two had met when he entered the business about 22 years ago.
“When I started and I was introduced to Mark, he made it clear that he had an open-door policy. If I had questions, and needed anything, he made me understand that we were like brothers,” McIntosh said. “He was a mentor and I think it was like that for many people.”
Lipinski was one of the hardest-working men he’s ever known, McIntosh said. He was famous in town for his car being parked outside his downtown office at 518 12 St. W. on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Whether he was stopping to say hello while he was out walking his dog or stopping for a chat, it was always a good conversation,” McIntosh said. “He is going to be truly missed. He is an icon in the legal community in Bradenton.”
State Attorney Ed Brodsky, like others, recalled seeing Lipinski working on weekends whenever he, too, would come into his office.
“He was a zealous advocate who acted tirelessly on behalf of his clients,” Brodsky said. “He was considered to be one of the most prominent criminal defense attorneys in this community.”
The prosecutor added, “He will be dearly missed by all of us.”
Quite a party
But it was his fond memories of the Christmas party that Lipinski used to throw with long-time friend Vincent M. Lucente that Brodsky said showed him how big a heart the defense attorney had.
“In the legal community, it was the party of the year,” Brodsky said.
And all in the legal community were welcome at Lipinski’s party, eventually growing so large it had to be held at the Bradenton City Auditorium.
Lucente was very somber when he answered the phone at his court reporting service Vincent M. Lucente & Associates, but laughed at the mention of the famed Christmas party.
“They still ask if I am going to have a Christmas party and the last one was 10 years ago,” Lucente said.
The two men had shared a friendship for almost four decades.
“Anything I needed, Mark was there,” Lucente said. “He was a good friend and he's going to be missed. He was one of the best criminal attorneys around.”
He recalled how his friend would often play with his dog, Arlo, in the alley behind his office, morning or night.
“I guess that was his escape,” Lucente said. “I don’t think he did much else. I would come in early and his car was already here. I would leave late and his car would still be here.
“There won't be anyone like him. He was a legend.”
Lucente referred to Lipinski as a “walking law dictionary” who didn't need to look up anything, but instead could recite laws off the cuff.
“Criminal law is a very tough business, and Mark made a little easier,” Lucente said.
He’ll be missed
In an email to the Bradenton Herald, Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. expressed how Lipinski’s presence will be missed in the courthouse.
“I have known him a long time and admired him for his advocacy skills. Mark was passionate in representing his clients and actually performed a lot of pro bono work in the community,” Smith wrote. “My dad was a circuit judge from 1971 to 1991 and Mark was always one of his favorite lawyers. I have been a circuit judge since 2009 and feel the same way about Mark.”
Some took to social media when they heard news.
Adam Tebrugge, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, tweeted out “Word is spreading that Bradenton's preeminent criminal defense attorney has passed away. I will very much miss my friend.”
In another tweet, Tebrugge shared a poem that he wrote about a case he and Lipinski had worked on together.
Tebrugge’s poem details a hearing for a client that went late into the night — well after the air conditioning shut down at 7 p.m. When the hearing concluded at 11 p.m., their client was hauled to jail in tears, the poem but goes on. But Lipinski was still arguing for his client.
“We searched the office high and low but could not find a drink. As the clock struck midnight we were tired, dry and hungry,” Tebrugge wrote. “But as I left the office, I could hear a voice exclaim, ‘We will fight another day,’ said lawyer Mark Lipinski.”
A public service will be held for Lipinski, but details have not yet been set.
Lipinski’s cases will continue to be handled by his office and Guy.
Sampling of Lipinski’s cases
▪ On July 31, 2008, first-degree murder suspect Cody Rogers was granted a $500,000 bond after Lipinski argued that Rogers’ previous bond should be in force. Rogers had been arrested on a principal to murder charge and released on a $500,000 bond, but was rearrested after being indicted on first-degree murder. Presented with the case, the judge agreed with Lipinski that Rogers was entitled to bond because he had posted it on the lesser charge.
▪ In February 2004, Lipinski went the lengths of writing a a guest column for the Bradenton Herald in defense of then-Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin, asking the community not to make the judge a scapegoat for his handling of a violation of probation in which the defendant, Joseph P. Smith, was later charged with killing someone.
"Rather than being known as a lenient sentencer, as the media suggests, Judge Rapkin certainly has no problem in sentencing defendants to the maximum amount of prison required under the law," Lipinski wrote. "He does insist that all parties to a criminal action — the prosecutors, police officers, and defense attorneys — follow the law. This is precisely what we pay judges in Florida to do."
▪ On May 18, 2007, Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge was acquitted of DUI after the defense put on by Lipinski and Guy. Lipinski had argued Edge could not have performed the sobriety tests successfully regardless of what state he had been in.
"He was a 65-year-old man with a neurological neck injury that makes it impossible for him to perform those tasks," said Lipinski, according to Bradenton Herald archives. He also argued that the Breathalyzer that had been used failed because it was 16 years old.