Ervin Gonzalez, a premier civil trial attorney who led some of the most significant personal-injury and class-action cases in Florida, was found dead inside his Coral Gables home on Thursday night, police said.
Gonzalez’s death sent a thunderous shock throughout South Florida’s legal community. His death was ruled a suicide, a Miami-Dade police spokeswoman said on Friday.
Gonzalez, 57, a partner with the prominent Coral Gables law firm Colson Hicks Eidson and a former president of the Dade County Bar Association, drew praise Friday from colleagues and friends who struggled with the loss of an attorney who seemed at the height of his career.
In a statement, the firm said “words cannot convey our grief, admiration, or affection for this pillar of our community,” and remembered him as a “caring, warm, brilliant and masterful trial attorney.”
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“He will be remembered for his intellect, skill and ability to befriend and defend the rights of people from all walks of life with a zest and dedication that was unrivaled,” partner Dean Colson said.
In the statement, the law firm disclosed that Gonzalez — known publicly for his charismatic and warm demeanor — had been quietly battling mental illness.
“Ervin’s passing reminds all of us that mental illness can strike anyone regardless of how accomplished or content they might appear,” Colson’s statement said. “Like the Ervin we all knew and loved, he valiantly fought this personal challenge with unmatched effort. He simply was unable to win his hardest and final trial.”
In an interview, Colson told the Miami Herald that Gonzalez “suffered from depression.”
“We knew about it for several years,” he said. “We tried to be supportive.”
Gonzalez’s death shook the legal community so deeply that a Miami federal judge talked about the late lawyer before a hearing on the Takata airbag case in which his law firm has been involved.
“He was a friend of judges and lawyers, but also most importantly of this community,” U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said Friday afternoon. “He was a credit to his Cuban heritage. He rose up from almost nothing.”
Miami attorney Dennis Kainen, who served as president of the Dade County Bar Association in 1999-2000 just before Gonzalez’s term, described his colleague as a “phenomenal lawyer.”
“But there are a lot of phenomenal lawyers in this town,” Kainen said. “Ervin was also a really good human being. He was willing to help anyone.”
Kainen, who sat with Gonzalez on the Florida Bar Board of Governors, said his death was “truly shocking,” partly because he was a health and fitness fanatic.
“He was the most controlled and disciplined person I knew,” Kainen said, noting that for the Dade County Bar Association’s monthly newspaper, Gonzalez organized and wrote 12 pieces in advance for his regular tips column.
Miami lawyer Ben Kuehne, who also served as a past president of the association, called Gonzalez “the quintessential fighter for justice.”
“His advocacy made the community a better place,” Kuehne said.
Another former association president, attorney Jack Hickey, expressed his shock and sorrow over Gonzalez’s inexplicable death, saying on a Facebook post that he “was at the top of his game.”
According to his bio, Gonzalez had boasted 33 verdicts of at least $1 million or more.
He had been on the forefront of many high-profile cases, from medical malpractice to the desecration of graves in a Jewish cemetery.
In 2005 case, he won a $65.1 million verdict for the family of a 12-year-old boy who was electrocuted at a Miami bus shelter during a storm. Five years later, Gonzalez was one of two Florida lawyers appointed to serve on the national committee overseeing plaintiffs’ claims stemming from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gonzalez also represented hundreds of homeowners who were victims of high-sulfur Chinese drywall in the construction of new homes, and he won the first jury verdict in the country. He assisted in securing a $1 billion settlement with a Chinese manufacturer of the drywall and in negotiating other large settlements.
“My job is to do the right thing, and through that process, impact important change,” Gonzalez told the Miami Herald in 2012. “I’m fortunate to be able to pursue a practice that allows me to do what I love the most.”
Gonzalez, a University of Miami law school graduate, had leadership roles in a number of legal groups. He was a former member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors and had served on its executive committee. Gonzalez also served on the National Board of Trustees of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.
A decade ago, Gonzalez survived the scandal of a former high-profile plaintiff’s attorney, Louis Robles, with whom he had tried numerous asbestos personal-injury cases. Robles pleaded guilty to stealing more than $13 million from thousands of elderly clients and was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Miami federal judge in 2007.
But evidence showed Gonzalez was unaware that Robles was operating a Ponzi-type scheme, by diverting settlement payments owed to clients to finance his lavish lifestyle in a Key Biscayne waterfront mansion.
If anything, the Robles scandal seemed to enhance Gonzalez’s reputation as a trusted, go-to trial attorney, leading to his successful run with Colson Hicks Eidson, the powerhouse boutique law firm.
His colleague, Kainen, said that while Gonzalez attained a storied legal career, he possessed a virtue that raised his profile among his peers: “He was the epitome of integrity.”
Gonzalez is survived by his wife, Janice, who owns a public relations business.
The viewing will be Monday, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Vior Funeral Home, 291 NW 37th Ave., Miami. The funeral service and Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, at Church of the Little Flower, 2711 Indian Mound Trail, Coral Gables.