11th Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan Discusses His Remarkable Career and Memories of UM Law Review

Adalberto Jordan

BY JC ZAMORA — Judge Adalberto José Jordan left Havana with his family in the late 1960s, and began one of the most remarkable Cuban-American success stories in Miami history. In the course of a few decades, Judge Jordan went from an immigrant child to top-of-his-class student at Miami Law (and a UMLR member) to highly respected attorney to federal judge.

Judge Jordan’s journey, however, started inauspiciously. After his family settled in Miami, Judge Jordan enrolled at Santa Clara Elementary School in Allapattah, where his first report card included a “bad conduct” grade. Specifically, the report card included comments that remarked how “Adalberto lacked self-control.”

Actually, the future Eleventh Circuit judge was just trying to figure out what the teacher was saying. The grade, Judge Jordan recalled, was a product of his continually talking to classmates during class, asking his peers what the teacher was saying, since he did not know any English. Nevertheless, Judge Jordan noted how he and his brother, Jorge, picked up English within the year. The following year, Judge Jordan’s parents transferred him to Corpus Christi.

At Corpus Christi, Judge Jordan met his future wife, Esther, in the second grade. He calls it love at first sight. During our interview, Judge Jordan and Esther recalled how many life-long friends he made at Corpus Christi. For the past 20 years, Judge Jordan and his group of friends get together every Thanksgiving and play softball.

In fact, Judge Jordan’s love of sports pre-dates his passion for the law. Judge Jordan began playing varsity baseball at Archbishop Curley High School. After his junior year of high school, though, Judge Jordan transferred to Saint Brendan solely because Curley closed down its baseball program.

As an undergraduate at the University of Miami, Judge Jordan pursued his two passions at the time—baseball and the law. UM gave Judge Jordan an academic scholarship and a walk-on position on the school’s baseball team. On the academic front, Judge Jordan took as much law as he could, studying constitutional and environmental law. Judge Jordan graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in politics and public affairs, and a minor in philosophy.

Judge Jordan went on to UM Law, and excelled despite juggling school and a part-time job at Sun Bank, fixing ATMs that broke after-hours in the Coral Gables-South Miami area. After a semester of juggling work and school, Judge Jordan and Esther married and went on their honeymoon during the law school’s winter break. Appropriately enough, the newlyweds had their honeymoon in Washington D.C. After finishing his first year, Judge Jordan received straight As, grading onto the University of Miami Law Review.

I sat down with Judge Jordan recently to discuss his experience on UMLR.

Q: In what capacity did you serve on the law review?
A: I was an Articles & Comments Editor, and was on the Law Review for the ’85-’86 and ’86-’87 terms.

Q: Could you tell us about the work you had published while you were on the Law Review?
A: My paper, Imagery, Humor and the Judicial Opinion (41 U. Miami L. Rev. 693), which analyzed the use of literary allusions, imagery and humor used by judges in their opinions. It was published my third year.

Q: What was the most important skill you developed while on law review?
A: I learned to read quickly for content and style as an editor.

Q: How do you think your experience on law review shaped your legal career?
A: I am not sure it shaped my career—shaped my career in the sense that I did not go into academia as a career, but I think it certainly helped me insofar as my overall law school experience. It is also something that added value to my resume while giving me an opportunity to write about a number of legal topics that I found interesting.

Q: What are the most important skills you would like to see in young lawyers coming out of law school?
A: I would like them to be good writers, both generally and legally. I would like them to be well read in the sense that they have been able to take a number of classes throughout the legal spectrum. I want to be able to ask someone a general property question or a question on corporate law. You don’t want someone coming out of law school without a broad sense of several areas of the law. For example, a law student who is fixated on being a litigator should not avoid taking business law classes. The more you know about the law, and its different areas, the more effectively you will be able to represent your future clients.

Q: What advice would you give to current Law Review members?
A: They should concern themselves more with the content of their editorial pieces, and not agonize over footnotes. Good law review articles do not need to have over 200 footnotes. Don’t overemphasize the footnote aspect of your editing or of the author’s writing.

After describing his Law Review experience, Judge Jordan discussed with me his second year of law school. Through the encouragement of two of his professors—Mary Coombs and Tony Powers—Judge Jordan described to me how applied for a number of clerkships. By the end of his second year, he received a clerkship with Judge Thomas Clark, who was on the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Jordan then began applying to the Supreme Court for clerkships in his 3L year, and ultimately became a clerk for then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. After his Supreme Court clerkship, Judge Jordan returned to Miami, where he worked at Steel Hector and Davis, with legendary Miami attorneys like Sandy D’Alemberte, Donald Middlebrooks, and Thomas Julin.

Judge Jordan’s final step to the federal judiciary was at the United States Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Jordan worked in the appellate division for five years, eventually becoming Chief of the division. Then, in 1999, and was ultimately nominated for the district court position.

Judge Jordan spent the next twelve years at federal district court level—describing it as a wonderful experience where he got to try a lot of cases and do a lot of interesting work. He remarked how it was (and still is) a very busy district, affording him the opportunity to work with wonderful colleagues, chamber’s staff and law clerks.

Last year, a near-unanimous Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Judge Jordan to the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Jordan described his nomination as a great honor.

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