Batter Up

Mark Zebrowski helped create a baseball monument for his city

Published in 2009 San Diego Super Lawyers — June 2009

Often, when attorneys win a case, there's not a lot of tangible evidence of the effort they've expended. Of course, many lawyers are well-paid for their work—and certain cases are more attention-grabbing than others. But the majority of lawsuits are concluded quietly, without a lot of ballyhoo or public recognition.

At least that's the way Mark C. Zebrowski, managing partner in Morrison Foerster's San Diego office, sees it. Zebrowski has been practicing law in San Diego for a quarter century, and while he's received many accolades for his work representing businesses, he's never been able to point to a concrete example of the fruits of his labor. That fact used to get under his skin—just a little bit.

"For the most part, commercial litigation isn't very showy work," Zebrowski says. "It's great to win a case, to get a good settlement and have a happy client. If you do your job right, that person's business continues to thrive. Later on, you may become friends with a client or go on to do work for them in the future, but you don't get to see or touch anything that symbolizes what you've accomplished. I grew up in the Midwest. We had factories there. Steel went in one end and stuff came out the other end. My job doesn't usually work that way."

But every now and then, it does. In the late 1990s, Zebrowski was given the opportunity to help the Padres build a new San Diego landmark.

In 1998, the San Diego Padres won voter approval to construct a ballpark in the city's underdeveloped East Village neighborhood. Charles Black, Zebrowski's law partner at the time, was representing the team on the transactional side and recruited Zebrowski to handle ballpark litigation.

"As soon as the project was granted voter approval, litigation started springing forth," Zebrowski recalls. "It was a unique public-private partnership that was approved by the voters in San Diego. Project implementation required a whole bunch of steps. Every time another step was taken, another lawsuit was filed to challenge it. In California there's a whole variety of ways to use litigation to mess with real estate projects in general and public-private partnerships in particular. In this case, people who lost at the ballot box tried to use the court system to prevent the ballpark from being built." 

At the beginning, construction and development on the park continued while litigation raged on. But work was eventually put on hold. "As an attorney, the situation was interesting and fun," he says. "There was always something new to attend to. As a voter, a citizen and a baseball fan, it was really frustrating. For the client, the experience was even more frustrating because they had won approval for the project from a majority of the public and here it was being held up by a group of spoilers."

Finally, after years of legal wrangling, Zebrowski and the Padres emerged triumphant and construction resumed. In April 2004, the Padres' new playing field, dubbed Petco Park, opened to the public.

"Most of the time as litigators, if we get a great result we walk out of the courthouse with a piece of paper and a happy client," he says. "With this work, I got to play a major role in building and creating an important gathering place for my community. Now, if someone asks me what I do for a living, I can take them to a ballgame in this beautiful, state-of-the-art stadium and say, 'Look at this. I helped this incredible baseball venue get built.' It's pretty amazing."

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