It was 2006, and the Miami Heat was squaring off against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals.
As the younger brother of the Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, Dallas-based lawyer Brian Cuban not only had great seats for himself but two extras to share with his friends. But he didn’t give them to his friends. He gave them to his drug dealer for $1,000 of cocaine.
“Selling them on eBay was disrespectful to my family, but trading them to my cocaine dealer was fine,” Cuban said to a roomful of Miami lawyers on Friday. “How the mind works on addiction.”
Cuban recounted this tale, and the night’s conclusion (he poured the coke out on his desk — “Scarface style” — before hiding it in fake electrical outlets he carved into every closet in his apartment, eventually flushing it all down the toilet) at a Cuban American Bar Association panel on mental illness in the legal community.
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CABA president Javier Lopez invited Cuban, author of the book, “The Addicted Lawyer,’’ to share his journey through addiction, depression, bulimia and, finally in 2007, recovery.
“I wanted to do something different this year,” Lopez said. “This is an important issue we can’t ignore.”
Lawyers have the fourth-most suicides by profession, after dentists, pharmacists and doctors, according to the most-recent numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This summer, two prominent South Florida lawyers took their own lives.
Family and colleagues were stunned when newly hired Miami prosecutor Beranton J. Whisenant Jr., washed up on Hollywood Beach with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May. He is remembered for his passion and dedication to public service.
Ervin Gonzalez, a Coral Gables-based civil trial lawyer who led some of Florida’s most- significant, class-action and personal-injury cases, struggled with depression for years before he was found dead in his home in June. In a statement, his firm remembered him as a “caring, warm, brilliant and masterful trial attorney.”
Before Cuban spoke, Lopez talked about a friend he lost to suicide last year, prominent Miami banker Raul Valdes-Fauli. He had lunch with Valdes-Fauli two weeks before his death, and Lopez said his friend seemed happy.
“I had no idea the hurricane that was going on in his head,” Lopez said.
Part of the solution is asking for help when you need it, said Dr. Ana Maria Ojeda, a clinical psychologist Lopez invited to the panel to give advice on recognizing mental illness, as well as recognizing when others are in need.
Changes in sleeping patterns, a lack of enjoyment for activities someone used to love, feelings of hopelessness or excessive anger can all point to depression or other mental illnesses.
“If you see any of these symptoms, do not be afraid to ask someone if they’re depressed,” said Ojeda, on the medical staff at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “Be direct.”
Cuban said he was 44 when he decided to kill himself with the .45 automatic he kept on his nightstand. Thankfully, he said, his brothers came and took him to the hospital before he could follow through. Although he wouldn’t commit to recovery and sobriety for several more years, Cuban said his suicidal thoughts were the culmination of years of destructive behavior.
“I’ve never been suspended or disbarred, but it wasn’t for lack of trying,” he said.
He talked about doing cocaine before trials, showing up to mediation so hung over he could barely speak, and drinking constantly. When he finally made it to the 12-step program, he wasn’t surprised to see that half the room was lawyers.
“As a profession, we have to deal with these problems where they are, but we also have to deal with how we got there,” Cuban said.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255
Possible signs of depression
▪ Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
▪ Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
▪ Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
▪ Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
▪ Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
▪ Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
▪ Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
▪ Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
▪ Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
▪ Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
▪ Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
▪ Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Source: The Mayo Clinic