Shifting Gears

After hours, look for David Caldevilla behind the wheel—or the shutter

Published in 2010 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2010

As a teenager in the 1970s, David Caldevilla was already nuts about cars: the powerful, artistic hot rods of the ’50s and ’60s. Meshing that intrigue with a love of photography, Caldevilla began a lifelong hobby—enhanced now in the digital age—that he has dubbed “automotography.”

Through his imaginative camera angles and layers of digital-editing effects, vintage Cadillacs, Buicks and Bel Airs take on flamboyant personalities.

The artistic process is lengthy, but it’s during those quiet hours that the board-certified appellate lawyer at de la Parte & Gilbert in Tampa finds respite from the stress of his complex cases.

Caldevilla, 48, hasn’t just photographed vintage cars; he’s also owned several. But the first one he wanted got away.

“As you approach 15, 16, you start dreaming of your first car,” he says. “I’d beg my dad to take me car shopping. I wanted a nice, sporty car. I wanted a 1963-’67 Corvette, but my dad put the brakes on that.”

Instead he got a 1969 Camaro, a rust-bucket that he restored with the help of his father, uncle and brothers. He drove the Camaro throughout college, then sold it, upgrading to a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible just before law school. “The [first] car didn’t have any air conditioning, no power steering; [things] that make driving comfortable. When you’re a teenager, all that [stripped-down] stuff’s fun, but when you’re wearing a coat and tie it’s hard to justify having that kind of a car.”

When Caldevilla accepted his first legal job as a staff attorney for Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals, he rewarded himself by buying his first new car, a 1986 Z-28 Camaro. But as luck would have it, it was a lemon. “I filed one of the first ‘lemon law’ cases in Hillsborough County,” receiving a favorable settlement, he says.

Caldevilla joined de la Parte & Gilbert after taking a liking to civil trial work. But his background steered him toward becoming de la Parte’s appellate expert.

“As a trial lawyer, you can get into a lot of day-to-day skirmishes on discovery and the presentation of evidence that I enjoyed when I was younger,” he says. “But now, I much more enjoy the legal writing and research and presenting legal arguments of the appellate court.”

A case that brings Caldevilla great satisfaction is one in which he’s fighting for catastrophically injured children. The Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA), he says, is underpaying custodial care benefits to families of severely neurologically injured children who are dependent on family-member caregivers. Caldevilla helped the families achieve class-action status and make their claim that NICA retroactively—he believes unconstitutionally—applied new state compensation limits.

“[NICA] has basically been cheating these families out of benefits that they’re entitled to,” claims Caldevilla. The trial court granted the class certification, NICA appealed and the appellate court affirmed the certification in late 2009. The case itself is pending in the 13th Judicial Circuit, but Caldevilla is optimistic that his clients will prevail.

In his off time, Caldevilla has passed along his love of cars to his 14-year-old son, Jake, who is hoping to get his own hot rod next year.

As for that Corvette Caldevilla wanted at age 15? One of the perks of being a successful attorney is occasionally being able to make some dreams come true. Which is why Caldevilla is now the proud owner of a sleek silver 1966 Corvette Stingray. He notes with satisfaction, “After waiting 30 years for it!”

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