Personal Lives

'Totally Driven' Lawyer's Suicide a Wake-Up Call for Others

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To those who knew him, including his best friend, Hermes Villarreal was a successful trial lawyer with a happy family life.

But beneath the surface, the 41-year-old South Texas plaintiffs attorney struggled with anxiety and depression. However, he didn’t know at the time that his headaches and other symptoms apparently called for psychiatric treatment, and his family, friends, colleagues and even medical professionals didn’t understand the extent of his problems, Texas Lawyer reported in a lengthy feature article.

On April 19, 2005, three days after Villarreal had been admitted to a hospital in McAllen, he committed suicide with a razor given to him by a nurse.

“Just leading up to this hospitalization, he’d go through periods of insomnia where he was awake for days, and at work he had difficulty concentrating. He wasn’t picking up on what people were saying, he couldn’t focus on his cases and he had a sensation of his heart racing and thought maybe he was having some sort of a heart event. He told the ER doctor and the internist that he felt like he was under tremendous pressure in his legal practice,” recounts Mary Wilson, a partner in Rhodes & Vela in San Antonio who represented Villarreal’s family. “He was an alpha male, an A-type personality and totally driven—independent in every way and providing for everyone very well—who had an acute psychiatric condition, and he needed care.”

Earlier this year, a tort claim brought against the hospital by Villarreal’s family resulted in a $9 million jury award, although the amount is subject to change by the trial judge and is expected to be substantially less, based on post-verdict motions and statutory damage caps.

But the case isn’t just about the money, whatever the amount of the final award may be, says Raymond Thomas. A partner at Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzales in McAllen who helped win the case before a Hidalgo County jury, he also was Villarreal’s best friend.

“If it causes one lawyer to look in the mirror and say, ‘That’s happening to me,’ or, ‘That’s happening to one of my colleagues,’ it will all have been worth it,” says Thomas. “It’s too bad it takes a tragedy like this for people to become self-aware, but perhaps this tragedy will prevent some others.”

Read the full article.

Related coverage: “Renowned Criminal Defense Lawyer Gary Proctor Commits Suicide” “ABA OKs Conditional Admission to Bar for Would-Be Lawyers with Addiction, Mental Problems”

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