By: Thomas S. Ward
On February 8, 2017, Judge Luck was appointed to serve as the thirty-seventh judge in the history of the Third District Court of Appeal. The fact that he graduated law school just 13-years earlier made his accomplishment all the more impressive. But like an efficient CrossFit workout, Judge Luck has packed a lot into a short period of time. His diverse experiences and wide-ranging accomplishments are a substantial part of what make him a well-qualified jurist and fascinating person.
Judge Luck was born in South Miami Hospital on March 17, 1979. His sister Robin and he grew up in North Miami Beach where their father, Joey, sold trucks and their mother, Susie, was a teacher. While Judge Luck’s parents worked to instill their blue collar values in him, they quietly dreamed he would become a white collar professional.
Their dream took the first step towards becoming a reality when Judge Luck graduated from North Miami Beach Senior High School in 1997 and headed off to college. Judge Luck began at George Washington University in Washington D.C. before transferring to the University of Florida where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics with highest honors in 2000. Before graduating, Judge Luck flirted with law school and even sent in some applications. He was accepted into a number of prestigious schools — including the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law — but ultimately decided to enter the work force.
Degree in hand, Judge Luck traveled back to Washington D.C. where he spent a year on Capitol Hill serving as a legislative correspondent for United States Senators Paul Coverdell (Georgia) and Jon Kyl (Arizona). During this period, it became clear to Judge Luck “that lawyers made the decisions” at the highest levels. This revelation inspired him to reconsider his initial plan to attend law school.
When considering law schools in 2001, Judge Luck could not resist the siren song of Gainesville a second time. In law school, Judge Luck served as the editor-in-chief of the Florida Law Review, graduated magna cum laude, was asked to join the prestigious Order of the Coif, and spent a pair of summers interning at the South Florida law firms of Kluger, Peretz, Kaplan, & Berlin P.A. and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.
Armed with impressive academic credentials and practical experience in both politics and law, Judge Luck was able to procure a clerkship in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals with (now-Chief) Judge Ed Carnes. It was during this year in Montgomery, Alabama under Carnes’ guidance that Judge Luck got the “appellate bug.” When his clerkship ended, Judge Luck returned to Florida and joined the appellate division of Greenberg Traurig LLP’s Miami office. Although Judge Luck fully expected to spend his foreseeable future honing his skills as an appellate advocate in South Florida, only a year later Judge Carnes sought to retain Judge Luck as a full-time clerk. Unable to turn down his brilliant mentor, Judge Luck returned to Alabama and spent two years honing his legal writing skills, soaking up more law, and observing how a federal judge handles himself both on and off the bench.
In 2008, Judge Luck returned to Miami as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. During his five years as a federal prosecutor Judge Luck handled trials and appeals in the Appeals, Major Crimes, and Economic Crimes sections. In all, he tried nineteen federal jury trials and argued before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals three times before being promoted to Deputy Chief, where his responsibilities ranged from signing off on search warrants to mentoring younger prosecutors.
In 2013, Judge Luck applied to fill an opening on the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court bench with encouragement from Judge Carnes and his fellow prosecutors. Although he was only 34-years old, Judge Luck learned on June 26, 2013 that he obtained the appointment on his very first attempt. And after wrapping up his obligations as a federal prosecutor, Judge Luck began serving as a circuit court judge in September 2013. Judge Luck chose to be sworn in by Judge Carnes to honor the substantial role his mentor had played in his professional life. Judge Carnes also influenced Judge Luck’s more formal demeanor on the bench, which Judge Luck felt gave the attorneys and litigants who appeared before him confidence that he was taking their case seriously and was capable of presiding over their case. Although young, Judge Luck was not the youngest jurist to serve in the Miami-Dade County trial courts; he followed Judge David Gerstein (31-years old in 1982), and Chief Judge Soto (32 in 2002). Judge Luck credits, among others, Chief Judge Bertila Soto and Judges Miguel de la O; Dennis J. Murphy; Thomas J. Rebull; Rodolfo A. Ruiz; and Nushin Sayfie as instrumental to facilitating his transition to the bench.
Judge Luck accomplished a great deal during his three-and-a-half years as a circuit court judge. He spent two-and-a-half years in the criminal division presiding over approximately fifty trials and one year in the civil division presiding over approximately fifteen trials. He also simultaneously served in the circuit court’s appellate division, where he sat on the panel for approximately thirty circuit court appeals. While Judge Luck describes his time on the circuit court bench as “truly special,” it did force him to get out of his comfort zone on many occasions; on February 12, 2015, Judge Luck was attacked in open court by a criminal defendant and suffered a scratch to the neck and a laceration to the back of the head. Amazingly, Judge Luck declined medical attention and returned to the bench the very next day. Judge Luck was also involved with the election process for the first time when he faced former Florida House of Representatives member, Yolly Roberson, to retain his seat on the bench. Judge Luck managed to campaign while still handling all of his responsibilities as a sitting judge. He acknowledged that while this aspect of the job was difficult, being a judge is “a position of service.” Judge Luck says that campaigning is important because “it forces the candidate to go out and meet the people who comprise this community and explain to them precisely what you do, why it is important, and why you are qualified to do it.” Judge Luck’s qualifications were evidenced by his performance on the bench during his first term as well as the public’s ratings of that performance on various privately-operated websites.
After retaining his circuit court seat, Judge Luck’s peers on the bench encouraged him to apply to an opening on the Third District Court of Appeal created when Judge Frank A. Shepherd reached mandatory retirement age. While appreciative of his colleagues’ confidence in him, Judge Luck initially felt that it was too soon for him to apply to such a prestigious position. After all, at 37-years old, he was one of the youngest circuit court judges in the state. But after some further reflection, he reconsidered and applied. In making that decision, Judge Luck recalled that his circuit court orders had been well-received by the Third District; he possessed a substantial amount of civil and criminal trial experience on both sides of the bench; he had the support of his fellow jurists; and that being qualified was more about “maturity, not age.”
Judge Luck recalls being more comfortable during his second encounter with the judicial application process because he possessed stronger credentials than he did when he applied for a circuit court judgeship and because he was more familiar with the process despite some differences the second time around. When he was applying to be a trial court judge, much of the Judicial Nominating Committee’s focus was on the mechanics of being a judge, how he would handle the election process, and his understanding of the attendant administrative responsibilities. This time the interviewers knew Judge Luck and, since he was applying for an appellate judgeship, focused their questions on substantive legal issues. Judge Luck also interviewed directly with the governor, enjoying the opportunity to thank him for his confidence in appointing Judge Luck to the circuit bench approximately four years earlier. The next day, Judge Luck received the call from the governor appointing him to the Third District. While it was a thrill to inform his family, friends, and colleagues about his new position, Judge Luck vividly recalls the conversation with his mentor, Judge Carnes, as being a truly special moment.
Judge Luck took his seat at the Third District on March 6, 2017, and he credits the chief judges of the circuit court and Third District — especially Judges Soto and Richard J. Suarez — for facilitating his expedited transition from the circuit court to the appellate court. Within just one month of the governor’s call, Judge Luck had attended an informal orientation, received and reviewed the Third District’s internal operating procedures, received a new robe, and sat on his first oral argument panel. When he walks into the courtroom and sees the paintings of the former chief judges today, he still feels the same sense of awe and respect for the position that he felt the very first time his name was announced to commence an oral argument.
Judge Luck’s ceremonial investiture took place at the Third District on April 21, 2017 where — for the second time — he was sworn into office by Judge Carnes. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Chief Judge Soto then gave an elegant speech and presented a pair of thoughtful gifts to Judge Luck from his judicial colleagues at the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court: a University of Florida sweatband, which played into Judge Luck’s love for the Gators as well as his self-proclaimed proclivity to sweat, and a coffeemaker that makes Cuban coffee, since — like most Miamians — he is addicted to cafecito.
After a year at the Third District, Judge Luck is especially appreciative of his fellow jurists’ collegiality. Since all of the judges live within twenty miles of the court, on a typical day they will all be physically at the court and gather for lunch together. He also appreciates its composition. He feels it is critical that the court comprise a balance of former judges and practicing lawyers so that it can draw from the experiences of both groups when rendering decisions. Judge Luck has also had time to observe that some decisions are “exceedingly difficult.” Accordingly, he works as hard as he can, reads everything provided and cited by the parties, and prays for “the wisdom to do justice and get it right.” Most of all, he appreciates how hard the court’s staff works. From Clerk Mary Cay Blanks to Marshal Veronica Antonoff and from the clerks and employees in his chamber to the security staff, he is awed by how hard they all work and how pleasant they are to be around.
During the past year, Judge Luck has gained new insight on what constitutes effective practice before the court. He encourages practitioners to be less formal when drafting motions and briefs wherever it is possible and appropriate to do so. Less formal writing is easier for the court to read and requires the author to think deeply about the subject rather than hiding behind legalese. Judge Luck feels that the most useful feature of oral argument is the opportunity to air out different thoughts and positions; he believes practitioners should be prepared to delve into the practical effects of the court adopting their position as well as their opponent’s position. Oftentimes the most persuasive form of advocacy is an unbiased presentation of the facts and the law. “You want the court to adopt your brief as its opinion,” he says, which can only be done if you are honest about the warts in your case and explain why the law dictates your client should prevail anyway.
Judge Luck does not have much free time, but much of what he has he gives to the public. He is currently in the middle of serving a three-year term on the Florida Bar’s Appellate Court Rules Committee, which he does because he feels that “it is incumbent on [members of the Bar] to give back and make things better.” When he can get away, Judge Luck enjoys watching Seinfeld reruns, reading historical biographies, attending Miami Dolphins football games, and discussing the latest University of Florida athletic triumph with fellow Gators-superfan and jurist Judge Edwin A. Scales, III.
Of course, the only way Judge Luck could perform so many responsibilities at such a high level is because of his brilliant and supportive wife, Jennifer, also a type-A personality. Jennifer has a master’s degree and operates a property management business while raising their two children, Julia (11-years old) and Jacob (9). Judge Luck, infused with his parents’ blue-collar values and aided by the support of his family and fellow jurists, is sure to be a force on the bench for years to come.