Nomination of Ervin A. Gonzalez
Joseph P. Milton Professionalism and Civility Award
“I love this country for its constitutional rights and due process. It’s meaningful to Americans, and I always knew, from the time I was really little, that I wanted to be part of this legal system.” Ervin Gonzalez, 2008.
Ervin A. Gonzalez was board certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a specialist in civil trial law and in business litigation law, and averaged at least one verdict in excess of a million dollars every year he practiced law. His highest settlement was an even $100 million; his highest verdict $63 million, with a $60.3 million verdict right behind it. He served on the board of governors of the Florida Bar, the National Institute of Trial Lawyers, and the American Board of Trial Lawyers; as a director of the Academy of Trial Lawyers; as President of the Dade County Bar Association and of the Dade County Trial Lawyers Association; and as a director of St. Thomas University. Ervin was the only attorney in the country to serve on the steering committees of both the Chinese Drywall and B.P. Oil MDLs. Ervin taught Litigation Skills for more than two decades at his law school alma mater, The University of Miami School of law. He still found time to take every phone call, and respond to every email, seeking his advice, expertise, suggestions, and time. Ervin loved to teach, and he did so quietly, consistently, unseen and unsung behind the scenes of many great legal moments – be it a cross examination, voir dire, or verdict. Everyone wanted to know what Ervin thought about how it should be done. Ervin was grateful to be asked. He believed, and kept a handwritten quote inside his desk as a reminder, “One person can make a difference. Everyone should try.”
Ervin’s cases have created case law, guided public opinion, and resulted in the enactment of consumer protections in numerous areas of the law. It was Ervin who first saw “medical monitoring” as a viable legal theory, sued, took the issue up on appeal, and succeeded in having Florida recognize medical monitoring as a viable claim. (Petito v. A.H. Robins.) Today, this legal theory is currently being used by plaintiff’s lawyers across the nation seeking justice for individuals devastated by the opioid crisis. It was Ervin’s argument at sidebar in Dougherty v. W.R. Grace that led the trial court, and the appellate court (636 So. 2d 746 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994)) to rule that defendants arguing Fabre had to prove the nonparty’s fault to the same evidentiary standard a plaintiff had to prove fault against the defendant. The Florida Supreme Court later relied on the Dougherty holding in making this the rule throughout Florida. Nash v. Wells Fargo. Dougherty has been cited by courts nearly 300 times. Ervin had all the right instincts for what was right, and how it should be argued to allow the judge and jury to see “this is the right thing to do.” He made those around him want to do the right thing. Want to rise to his level.
His former clients referred to him not just as “my lawyer,” but as “my family.” His former opponents described him as “among the top tier of the finest lawyers I have ever had the opportunity to litigate against. He is very aggressive, very prepared, and very much a gentleman.” (Mark Seiden, 2008 interview for Florida Superlawyers Magazine.)
But for those who knew Ervin, the indelible feeling he left was not one of how accomplished he was, but rather how unexpectedly gracious a man with all his accomplishments was to every person he met. Every Person. When Ervin passed away, one of his partners walked to Starbucks and came across a man, holding a hand-made sign out front. It read: “WE LOVE ERVIN. #1 ATTORNEY.” The man said that he sits in his wheelchair in front of Starbucks often and that Ervin is the only person in a suit who had ever stopped to take the time to talk with him. He said that he would often see Ervin going to get coffee and that Ervin would always remember his name and stop to ask how he was doing. He said he was sad to learn of Ervin’s passing, so he went to the drugstore to make the sign. Then he offered his help if Ervin’s law firm should ever need it “because, he said, Ervin would have helped him if he ever needed it.”
The day after Ervin passed, federal Judge Federico Moreno stopped a legal proceeding and asked for a moment of silence and prayer to remember him. Judge Moreno said, “In our legal community, in our community more generally, it is so rare to find someone about whom everyone has nothing but positive things to say. Ervin Gonzalez was one of those rare individuals. He was a credit to his Cuban heritage. He was a credit to his religious faith. He was a teacher. He was a friend to this community.”