by Dylan Jackson
Greenberg Traurig of counsel Mark Tobin becomes visibly excited when the words “road widening”, “frontage” or “eminent domain” make its way into conversation. His eyes widen, and he is prone to tangents on constitutionality (“remember they can only take what they need”) and private property rights. At any moment, Tobin is liable to tearing off a page of a legal pad and quickly scribbling a rough outline of a tract of land to further drive home his point. Real estate is in Tobin’s blood. His grandfather, Ben Tobin, emigrated from Ukraine in the early 20th century with little and built Tobin Properties, a real estate empire that has counted the Empire State Building and Hollywood Beach Hotel as holdings.
Mark Tobin’s practice defending private individuals and companies against government eminent domain actions is how he follows his lifelong and hereditary passion for the industry. The work excites him. He loves quite possibly everything about real estate: how unique every project is, how democratic and accessible property can be, the creativity involved. In the end, developing a top-flight eminent domain practice means that he protects the very idea of real estate and private property. “It’s magical,” Tobin said. “It’s protecting the basic constitutional principles that protect of all of us, the right of private ownership. It’s fundamental.” Law Was Just A Tool Growing up in Hollywood, Florida, Tobin knew he had always wanted to be a real estate developer.
His father, Herbert Tobin, took over the family business in the mid-1980s. But in college, his father encouraged him to go his own way. That perspective changed when, in one of his classes, he met Amy Brigham Boulris, the daughter of vaunted eminent domain attorney Toby Brigham. Amy and Tobin hit it off and would go on to become lifelong friends. Toby Brigham asked Tobin to clerk for him as a second-year law student. The two would work together from 1987 until the firm — Brigham Moore — closed in 2011. At the time, Brigham Moore was the largest and oldest eminent domain firm in the country, and Tobin rose all the way to managing partner. To this day, Tobin reveres Toby Brigham as the mentor who changed his life. “He never represented the government,” he said. “Toby is a freedom fighter.” When the firm closed, Tobin jumped to Akerman, and then to Greenberg Traurig in December.
Over his career, Tobin has represented private owners exclusively in actions against hotels, gas stations, shopping centers and apartment buildings. He revels in making everybody happy and finding nonlitigious ways to resolve the issue. But, when the time comes, he will go to bat for his client, leaning on a sense of mission and righteousness. In Florida, the government is responsible for attorney fees in eminent domain actions, which allows Tobin to represent small business owners. He represented Jose Exposito, a first generation Cuban immigrant who feared his business would crumble when the government said it would appropriate the parking lot of his business, Soroa Orchids, to expand Krome Avenue. “This man came with nothing, not a dollar in his pocket. He was scared. He was going to lose his business,” he said. After initially offering just $6,000 for the road-side parking lot, Tobin negotiated a nearly $300,000 settlement with the government. “How nice is that? To be able to help somebody,” Tobin said, pulling out a mock-up of the property.”It’s inspiring to work with them.” Given his base of operations in South Florida, Tobin said there will be no shortage of work in the future. Miami will wrestle with eminent domain and buyouts as it looks to strengthen the city’s resiliency against climate change.
The Everglades expansion and proposed Dolphin expressway extension will continue to be an issue for years to come. And infrastructure spending will continue to spike as bipartisan support in local governments and Tallahassee reaches a fever pitch — a phenomenon many South Florida law firm leaders are also seeing. “There’s a scarcity of private real estate and abundance of government land,” Tobin said. “Limited budgets, strong land. Public-private partnerships are the future.”
Dylan Jackson writes about how national law firms manage their talent, diversity. He also writes about Latin America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-347-6677. On Twitter @DylanBJackson