Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan, J.D. '87: A Lifelong Learner

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Judge Adalberto “Bert” Jordan, J.D. ’87, believes in the importance of lifelong learning. Throughout his distinguished career in private practice and public service, including his current role on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Jordan has shared his insights and experience with Miami Law students. 

“I really enjoy teaching,” said Jordan, who joined the school’s adjunct faculty in 1989 and has led courses and seminars since then. “I like the interaction with the students, and getting back into the course material. I learn from them, just as they pick up new information from me.”

Through the years, Jordan has taught courses on federal courts, federal criminal practice, capital punishment, and judicial writing. For example, he was the instructor in a 2012 seminar on the death penalty that looked at different aspects of capital punishment, federal habeas corpus jurisprudence, and how a death sentence is appealed in state court and then reviewed in federal court.

As a teacher, Jordan encourages law students to hone their writing skills, and to develop a broad understanding of the law. "Knowing business law, for instance, can help a student become a better litigator in the future," he said. 

“Law students today are wrestling with many of the same career issues and decisions that I faced 30 years ago,” Jordan said. “What’s different and challenging is their ability to navigate the world of technology and bring those skills to the classroom and later to their practice.”

BECOMING A LAWYER

Born in Havana, Cuba, Jordan came to Miami with his family in 1968. He quickly learned English in elementary school. In the second grade, he met his wife Esther. He also began playing baseball. Growing up, he combined baseball with his academic studies, and graduated from St. Brendan High School in 1980.

“I became interested in the law from watching shows like ’Perry Mason’ on television,” Jordan said. “In high school, I took a number of law-related classes and was fairly certain about my career.”

After high school Jordan enrolled at the University of Miami, and made the varsity team as a freshman under legendary coach Ron Fraser. “I was primarily a reserve utility infielder,” he said. 

As an undergraduate, Jordan majored in politics and public affairs in the College of Arts & Sciences, taking classes on topics like constitutional and environmental law. “I was already reading and briefing cases before I went to law school,” said Jordan, who graduated magna cum laude in 1984. “I got a wonderful education at Miami, both as an undergrad and as a law student.” 

At the School of Law, Jordan excelled in his studies, earning his J.D. summa cum laude. He and Esther married in his first year, and went on their honeymoon during the Law School’s winter break. In his third year at the school, Jordan served as Articles & Comments editor for the University of Miami Law Review, where he polished his writing and editing skills. His paper, “Imagery, Humor and the Judicial Opinion” analyzed the use of literary allusions, imagery, and humor by judges in their opinions.

“Writing for a law review is a great experience, but it’s different from the work you do as a lawyer or judge,” he said. “It’s more expansive and theoretical than the ’nuts and bolts’ aspects of writing a brief or an opinion.”

PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SERVICE

From law school, Jordan served as a clerk for Judge Thomas Alonzo Clark on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, followed by a second clerkship for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the United States Supreme Court. 

In 1989, Jordan returned to Miami as an associate for Steel, Hector & Davis, and began handling litigation and appellate matters. Soon after being named a partner in 1994, Jordan moved to the public sector, handling appellate matters as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “I had been thinking about public service for some time, and with the opening of a dedicated Appellate Division in the office, this was a good time to make the move,” said Jordan, who was named chief of the division in 1998.

A year later, President Bill Clinton nominated Jordan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and he was confirmed by the Senate by a 93-1 vote. While serving as a trial judge, Jordan continued to teach and advise the School of Law as a member of its visiting committee. He also began coaching the girls’ high school soccer team at St. Brendan’s, as he and Esther raised their two daughters. 

Today, Diana Jordan Zamora, J.D. ’15, is teaching at the Business Law Department at the University of Miami School of Business after clerking for Federico A. Moreno, J.D. ’78, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Elizabeth Jordan is now in her second year at the UM Miller School of Medicine.

APPOINTED TO THE APPELLATE COURT

In 2012, President Barack Obama nominated Jordan to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. After Senate confirmation, he became the first Cuban-born person to sit on that court, which has jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. 

At a celebratory reception in his honor, Dean Patricia White called Judge Jordan “one of our most extraordinary alumni,” and said the Law School is “incredibly fortunate” to have him serve on the adjunct faculty. “He’s a great teacher, who is beloved by his students.”

Today, Jordan sits as one of 12 full-time active judges on his court, supplemented by several senior judges, who handle about 6,100 cases in a typical year. “That’s about 50 percent more than the 3,900 filings we received when I was a clerk here back in 1987-88.”

But Jordan clearly enjoys the fast pace as well as the wide range of appellate cases that come to the court’s attention. “We do a lot of criminal work, as well as civil rights and diversity-related matters, and might have a fraud case, an admiralty case, and a state insurance case, on succeeding days,” he said. “We are always moving and always learning something new.”