The Doctor's Trials

Meet Hollywood's Donald Tobkin: caring M.D., feared lawyer, accused felon

Within months, she found that her past injuries had left her unable to lift patients. Needing another vocation, she started at Nova Southeastern University law school, working one weekly, 12-hour shift for a nursing agency and racing through her studies in 2.5 years.

In 1991, not long after she passed the Florida Bar exam, an attorney friend introduced her to Donald, who hired her to help him in his Pembroke Pines medical practice. They bonded over a shared medical-legal background. He impressed her as bright and eccentric, funny and clever, with a genuine compassion for the patients he would visit and a talent for saying the right thing. "He would get together with patients, and they would start talking about legal problems that they had," she remembers. "He wanted to help them out with everything! He couldn't leave these people."

But she felt uncomfortable; Donald was pursuing her romantically while still married to Jane. After a month working for him, Marilyn took a job at the Broward State Attorney's Office. Then she moved to a medical malpractice defense firm and to Holy Cross Hospital as a risk manager.

He's smart. He's engaging. And say this for Donald Tobkin: He embraces his anger.
Colby Katz
He's smart. He's engaging. And say this for Donald Tobkin: He embraces his anger.

Donald persisted in wooing her; they dated, albeit secretly.

Jane filed for divorce in the spring of 1992, saying the marriage was irretrievably broken (a judge later held that Donald had committed adultery). About six weeks later, Donald and Marilyn moved into a house in Fort Lauderdale's posh Rio Vista neighborhood. Marilyn became pregnant, and they were engaged.

In late March 1993, when Marilyn was seven months pregnant, she told Donald that she thought his relationship with his daughters was strained. He became irritated, she says, and pushed her on the chest, backing her out the front door. She tumbled down the front steps and started having sharp contractions, but he still dragged her to a court hearing where he was scheduled to appear, she says.

He didn't allow her out of his sight for a day and a half, she later wrote in court documents, until she slipped out to visit her obstetrician, Bernard Stern, at Parkway Hospital in North Miami Beach. Only moments behind her was Donald, who arrived and demanded to see her. To convey his urgency, according to a nurse's report from March 31, 1993, the "boyfriend threatened employee with neck-breaking."

No police report was ever filed in the incident -- but there were more to come. Donald denies that he pushed Marilyn or threatened anyone. "You can't harm a pregnant woman. Does it make sense that anybody, a prosecutor, a lawyer, would stand for that?" He adds: "This domestic violence stuff became a cottage industry. It should not be dignified as anything that deserves any special attention, because it is not quantifiable; it is not reproducible."

Two months after the alleged pushing, a judge signed the final dissolution of Donald's marriage to Jane. The next day, with a new baby days away and despite the alleged brutality and threat at the doctor's office, Donald and Marilyn were married. She remembers it as a whirlwind excursion: He directed her to accompany him to get a marriage license in downtown Fort Lauderdale. She claims she tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him, or at least to stall. When told now that Marilyn felt pressured to marry, Donald says only: "She and the baby would not have had insurance coverage."

A week later, on June 1, she gave birth to a son, Toby.

Donald's rage would manifest itself at odd times, Marilyn claims. In late 1995, when she gave birth again, this time to a daughter, Tabby, at West Boca Medical Center, he demanded that she return home without spending the night in doctors' care; nurses' notes indicate that Donald "wouldn't let mom sign any papers upon leaving," prompting alarmed hospital officials to notify state health officials. The baby was fine.

On November 23, 1996, Tabby's first birthday, Marilyn called Hollywood police, claiming that Donald, enraged over a credit-card charge, had grabbed her by the arms and bashed her head into the tile walls of their shower. Marilyn's older daughter, Sydney, then 11, "heard thumps," according to a police report, but didn't see the altercation, and the officer saw no bruises on the wife's scalp.

Donald denies that he urged his wife to leave the hospital early and that he abused her in the bathroom: "It never happened. I never caused a physical injury to any person in my life, except for in sports. I'm terribly opposed to violence. Words are enough... Anything that Marilyn says does not dignify a response from me."

In early December, the family visited Donald's psychiatrist, Burton Kahn, who was ill and staying at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, where he had been chief of staff. "From his hospital bed, he told Donald, 'We've got to make a deal. If you hit her again, she can leave you,'" Marilyn says. "And [Donald] was still screaming and insisting that he never hit me." Later, the couple sat downstairs at the hospital with the parents arguing, the mother nursing Tabby, and 3-year-old Toby squirming on a seat, kicking at the baby's head.

Marilyn, distraught, swatted Toby on the leg. Donald rushed the boy to the emergency room.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help