Barry Davidson’s career as a litigator is enviable.
He has represented, among others, the estate of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso; several major airlines, including Delta, United and Lufthansa; and Burger King in a legal battle with McDonald’s Corp.
These are some highlights for someone who didn’t set out to be an attorney. Davidson took the LSAT law school aptitude test at a friend’s suggestion — and even while in law school still wasn’t sure he wanted to be an attorney.
“I went to law school because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” said Davidson, now special counsel with Hunton Andrews Kurth in Miami.
It was a mock trial that Davidson did with his classmates one day from about 2 to 7 p.m. at University of Florida Levin College of Law that prompted him to choose his path.
“You paired up with someone else, and the two of you prepared and tried a civil case and a criminal case before a jury, and a jury was made up of first-year law students, and we did it in the downtown courthouse in Gainesville,” said Davidson, now 74. “And that was it. I knew right then and there I wanted to be a trial lawyer.”
BIG CASES, SMALL TOWNS
He is known for representing big-name clients, but what’s more striking is the engrossing nature of the cases.
“I really have been very lucky. I’ve had some really fascinating stuff,” he said.
In the early 1990s, he represented Picasso’s estate trying to stop the unlicensed use of the artist’s name by a cafe in Miami’s CocoWalk that was selling counterfeit Picasso objects, Davidson said.
Claude Picasso, son of the late artist, testified before U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez in a proceeding that included a chat about art.
“Judge Gonzalez was fascinated because he knows some art, so he and Claude Picasso, while he was on the stand, … they started talking about some of the counterfeit art that was part of the lawsuit,” Davidson said.
The Picasso estate won an injunction, Davidson said.
While this was the first case Davidson mentioned when asked to talk about his standout cases, there are plenty more.
In the mid-1990s, Miami International Airport was expanding to accommodate a new terminal for American Airlines.
Competing carriers like Delta, Lufthansa, United and Air Canada argued that under the airport’s rent system, which said all airlines pay the same rent for the same square footage regardless of whether the facilities are new or rundown, the expansion would benefit only American but increase everyone’s rents, according to Davidson, who represented the other carriers.
“The result was that all of the other major carriers at Miami International would, in effect in our view, be subsidizing the American expansion at the expense of our facilities,” he said.
The outcome: Miami-Dade County, which operates the airport, agreed to build a new concourse for the airlines Davidson represented and still let the American expansion work move forward.
Davidson has worked on cases in 28 Florida counties with much of his work on behalf of Florida Power & Light Co. Davidson was in charge of the power company’s land litigation across the state, and it was mostly eminent domain work, he said.
That took him to the municipalities of Bradenton, Green Cove Springs and Palatka, among others, trips he embraced as an opportunity to meet and work with attorneys and judges beyond South Florida.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to pick one case Davidson has worked on and peg it as the most interesting. But there is one case that he wanted to make sure he talked about: The burger wars of the 1980s.
While several comparative advertising ad campaigns prompted disputes between the major players in the fast-food business, this one focused on an ad Burger King ran against McDonald’s.
“The one that’s most vivid in my mind is this ad that shows a McDonald’s hamburger on a griddle with little bubbles of grease popping up from around it as it’s being cooked, and then you flash to the Burger King broiler,” Davidson said. The ad is “basically saying, ‘Ew, look at this awful McDonald’s hamburger, and look at this wonderful Burger King hamburger.”
McDonald’s sued Miami-based Burger King in federal court, and Davidson represented Burger King. The hard-fought litigation captured heavy media attention.
“It just caught everybody’s imagination,” Davidson said of the case, adding that Burger King won.
PASSING 50 YEARS
This year marks 50 years since Davidson was admitted to the Florida Bar. He served on the bar’s board of governors from 1982 to 1986.
He will speak at the 50-year members luncheon at the bar’s annual convention Friday in Orlando.
And after 50 years, he still is practicing.
“I am 74, which is a little old for …” he said, chuckling without finishing the sentence. “A lot of my friends have retired.
The reason for his career longevity: “I think the best answer is I always have been extremely comfortable in the courtroom.”
That’s noted by his clients as well. In one case, Davidson represented Edward Easton, the prominent industrial developer in South Florida and founder of The Easton Group, in a case where Easton alleged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to do the environmental cleanup after storing hurricane debris on Easton’s property.
During a courtroom break, Davidson recalled, Easton told him, “You are really at home here, aren’t you?”
“And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ ”
Born: Boston, 1943
Children: Brent and Clay
Spouse: Paula Davidson
Education: University of Florida, J.D., 1967; Vanderbilt University, B.A., 1964
Experience: Special counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth, 2000-present; Partner, Coll Davidson Smith Salter & Barkett, 1987-2000; Steel Hector & Davis, 1970-1987; Law clerk for U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins, 1968 to 1970; Legislative aide, Florida Senate, 1968