A lawyer who takes quirky cases
Who is Mark Benjamin?
It appears he's a lone practitioner who has taken up a quirky cause.
A check with the state board of professional responsibility shows that he is licensed to practice law and has no black marks on his record. Half a dozen Cambridge area attorneys did not return phone calls to ask about his reputation. He says he has no ties with tobacco companies, and there's no way to verify that. People who follow tobacco litigation had not heard of him until this winter when he led a theatrical troupe smoking in Barnacles in Mille Lacs And now he's on YouTube.
If you watch the video closely, you can tell he's uncomfortable with a cigarette in his hand. He doesn't quite know how to inhale. That's because he doesn't smoke. But Benjamin doesn't think it the least bit odd that he has become the voice for bar owners who oppose the smoking ban. "I favor civil rights but I'm not a person of color," he said.
He graduated in 1981 from the University of Minnesota "near the bottom of my class," he said, then went into the Marines for four years where he worked as an attorney in Cherry Point, NC. He calls himself a liberal Democrat.
He joined 58-year-old Cambridge law firm Parker, Satrom & Donegan as an associate in 1987, practiced criminal defense and family law, then left as a partner in 2004. He left the firm after committing himself to a mental hospital for help for depression, he said, then returned to practicing criminal law.
Until March, his office was in a double-wide trailer on the south end of Cambridge that he shared with another attorney, who had to walk through Benjamin's office to get to the coffee pot. When his trailer-mate moved out, Benjamin found new quarters in an office with 12-foot high ceilings in an old building in Cambridge.
When he's not representing bar owners, Benjamin is a criminal attorney who "chooses" his clients based on what he calls the gold standard. "I tell them I want them to be one-time clients," he said. Then he follows up to see that they are getting the mental or medical help they need, he said.
He's representing Tom Marinaro, owner of Tank's Bar in Babbitt for free, according to co-owner Marie Rinta. "There's a small fund to defray expenses," he said. "My Geo Metro doesn't burn much gas."
Benjamin first heard complaining about the smoking ban in VFW halls.
"This is more about mental health," he said. "People are under economic stress and they don't have their regular watering hole to go to." — Judith Yates Borger