The Doctor's Trials

On a sweltering Saturday, Donald Tobkin suns himself poolside behind the pinky-peach monolith that is the Ramada Inn on Hollywood Beach. Children scamper and catapult themselves into the turquoise pool. Shore birds honk overhead. From this spot, perhaps a couple of hundred yards from the surf, the sea is smelled but not seen, the salt scent overlapping that of chlorine and coconut sludge smeared on Canadian tourists' doughy torsos.

Tobkin is clad only in swim trunks and eyeglasses with octagonal tortoise-shell frames. The 56-year-old reclines in an upright chair, his feet sharing a small table with a bottle of spray-on tan enhancer. He's shirtless, displaying a bramble of black chest hair. His arrest record lists him at five-foot-ten and 140 pounds, but a budding paunch suggests that despite a workout regimen that includes beaucoup running, he may have put on a couple of pounds. He has a dark sense of humor and a tan to match: His skin has the carroty-bronze tone of a competition bodybuilder, and it makes his bright white teeth appear brighter and whiter. He offers his business card. It reads only, "Donald A. Tobkin, M.D., Esquire," and beneath that lists his phone number.

It was in late January that police called this lawyer/doctor's cell phone to arrange a house call at the Super Budget Motel north of Young Circle on Federal Highway, according to police and state records. A few minutes after midnight, Tobkin met undercover detective Nicole Coffin in number four. He took her blood pressure, checked her heartbeat, and tested her joints with a small hammer. He had her sign a patient acknowledgment form that includes more than a page of warnings on taking prescribed drugs. He asked her where she had been getting painkillers, and she replied, "The street."

Detective Coffin gave Tobkin $100, and he wrote her a prescription for 62 80-milligram pills of oxycodone, a potent painkiller. She asked whether the nearby CVS was open 24 hours, and he suggested she fill the prescription at a "mom and pop" pharmacy instead, according to a state report. Tobkin was then arrested, and police confiscated his medical bag, drug book, stethoscope, reflex hammer, and prescription pad. He was charged with writing prescriptions solely for profit. He made his $3,000 bail but faces a minimum of three years and maximum of decades if convicted.

"I committed no crime," he says as he sits poolside, his voice rising, the words spilling faster. "I'm trained. I'm a licensed drug dealer. And I never asked for money. I never said money for prescriptions. That's a fuckin' out-and-out fuckin' lie, and I can hardly wait to bring the case out."

There's little doubt that at least a part of him will relish his day in the courtroom. He's an avid litigant, having sued family, friends, doctors, hospitals, and cops and attempted to sue ex-clients during the past ten years. The Broward courts database lists him as a plaintiff or defendant in no fewer than 20 cases. In one still-active 2002 lawsuit alone, he named former neighbors, an ex-wife and her family, and the Hollywood Police Department all as defendants.

While brilliant and well-connected, Tobkin invites turmoil like few others. Empathetic and sharp, having earned two advanced degrees and millions of dollars, he has also: filed for bankruptcy twice since 1993, been accused of beating his ex-wife and small children, incurred IRS liens for three years of unpaid federal taxes, fallen behind nearly $100,000 in child support, and been barred from practicing in two Broward hospitals. The oxycodone arrest and a separate Florida Bar complaint before the state Supreme Court could cost him his law and medical licenses.

In April, a state Department of Health report rapped Tobkin for the arrest episode: "Dr. Tobkin has abandoned his role as a doctor to assume the role of street-level drug pusher..." Then it revoked his medical license, which Tobkin successfully petitioned to have reinstated -- for now, at least. He says he needs the license to make a living. He also claims to have millions of dollars in legal contingency fees outstanding but only a few hundred dollars on hand. The long slide for Donald Tobkin has not been pretty, and whether it's due to "his adversaries," as he asserts, or the product of his own temper and mistakes, it could be nearing its completion.

Many people have opinions about Donald Tobkin, but a good half-dozen of them reached by New Times declined to voice theirs. The comment by Fort Lauderdale attorney Alan Jay Braverman, who has faced Tobkin in court, pretty much sums up the rationale: "Anything I would say to you would result in a lawsuit."

Tobkin didn't intend to become such a feared man. Born to Jewish parents in Akron, Ohio, in 1949, he and his little brother, Ronald, were raised mainly by their father, Irwin, who had played tennis at Ohio State University in the early 1940s and had served, Donald says, as a lieutenant bombardier in World War II. After the war, Irwin made a tidy living selling carpet.

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Sam Eifling
Contact: Sam Eifling