Judge Monica Gordo, J.D. '99
Judge Monica Gordo, B.B.A. '96, J.D. '99, always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Growing up in Miami, she was interested in government and history. In eighth grade, she was elected the first female president of St. James Elementary School and wrote a paper about becoming an attorney.
Today, Gordo is proud to serve on the Third District Court of Appeal, joining a 10-judge appellate bench that includes six other Miami Law alumni: Chief Judge Kevin Emas, J.D. '82; Chief Judge-Elect Ivan F. Fernandez, J.D. '92; Judge Norma S. Lindsey, J.D. '93; Judge Bronwyn C. Miller, J.D. '92; and Judge Fleur Lobree, J.D. '92.
"We have a great panel of judges," said Gordo. "Most of our time is spent reading and studying the case transcripts. Every day is a new learning experience—and that's something I've always enjoyed."
Learning Business and Law
Gordo enrolled at the University of Miami School of Business when she was 17 years old, following in the steps of her older brother, Jose Gordo, B.E. '94. As an undergraduate, she was active in several campus organizations, including Sigma Delta Tau Sorority, Phi Alpha Delta, Young Entrepreneur's Club, and Best Buddies before graduating with her bachelor's degree magna cum laude.
"Earning a business degree helped me incredibly in the civil arena," she said. "I love math, and took calculus for fun as an undergraduate. The Business School helped me develop skills in accounting principles and statistics. I learned how to follow numbers, which is extremely useful in developing a framework for understanding complex business cases."
Gordo's next step was enrolling at Miami Law, where she became a member of the Entertainment & Sports Law Review, and co-chair of the Hispanic Law Students Association. Later in life, she was tapped into the Iron Arrow honor society. Gordo has also taught courses on trial skills at Miami Law as an adjunct professor and has served on the board of judicial directors for the University of Miami Law School Alumni Association for the past nine years.
Gordo enjoys mentoring students and has served as a volunteer for moot court competitions and mock trials for both Miami Law and Florida International University. For the past four years, she has presided over the mock trial final for home-schooled students throughout Miami-Dade County to help them develop a basic understanding of the court system.
"My journey at the University of Miami was special for many reasons, but especially for the friends I made," she said. "I would tell today's students to stay engaged with their peers because some of the best support they will get in their careers will come from the people sitting in the desks next to them."
Becoming a Prosecutor
While Gordo had always wanted to be a lawyer, she wasn't sure about her career path until her third year at Miami Law. "I took litigation skills, and criminal procedure, and my professor, Allison Fritz, an Assistant United States Attorney, told me that I had the right aptitude to become a prosecutor," she said. Her professor set up a lunch meeting with Kathleen Hoague, the Assistant Chief to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, which led to an internship. Later, Hoague introduced Gordo to Rundle, who hired her as an Assistant State Attorney.
She also met and married Albert Lazo. They now have two sons, Jacob, 17, and Julian, 11. "When I am with my family, they get my full attention, just as I focus on my cases when I am on the job," she said.
Gordo spent more than 11 years in the State Attorney's office, steadily moving up in the ranks. She tried misdemeanor cases such as driving under the influence in County Court, handled criminal cases in the juvenile division, and became Chief of the felony division in 2004. Along with trying homicides in that role, she was in charge of the Career Criminal Prosecution Unit and Gang Strike Force Unit. "That diverse experience—including civil, criminal, and family law matters—has served me well as an appellate judge," she said.
Joining the Court
In January 2011, Gordo became a judge. She was named to the Circuit Court's criminal division and spent four years in that position before moving to the civil division. Three years later, she joined the court's family division, serving as Associate Administrative Appellate Judge until Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal on April 25, 2019.
"I would be in the courtroom all day, listening to many different kinds of people, weighing their arguments and making decisions on their cases," Gordo said. "That's very different from my current role, reviewing appeals on civil, criminal, probate, family, guardianship, and other matters. Much of our work on the appellate bench tends to be behind the scenes. We review trial records and try to clarify the key points of law. We are very careful and deliberative in our review because about 98 percent of our rulings will become final. In that regard, we have an important impact on our community."
Gordo has a deep respect for South Florida's trial judges. "They want to avoid errors and be sure the process is fair to all parties," she said. "I remember that when I was handling criminal cases, I wanted to be sure the appellate judges could understand my rulings and why I made them."
Along with learning about criminal and civil cases, Gordo also enjoys teaching. She has served on the Education Committee of the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges for the past seven years teaching judicial education courses on criminal sentencing enhancements and mitigation, career criminal designation, Florida corporate business entities, and injunctions, receiverships and family rules of procedure relating to default judgments.
Last summer, Gordo taught a course on "writing for the busy trial judge" at the Florida conference. "We want to help our judges understand how to provide a solid record," she said. "That means communicating why they are making a decision along with the ruling itself. Let us know what evidence the trial judge, who is in the best position to know, found credible, and what evidence was not. Appellate judges also want to know what the trial court found significant in the case, and what was not so significant."
Serving the Community
Gordo is well respected for her leadership role in the community. She received the Spanish American League Against Discrimination annual Judicial Recognition Award 2014 for Outstanding Community Service and was named a Woman of Distinction in 2019 from the Town of Miami Lakes Cultural Affairs Committee.
She is particularly proud of the "Justice for All Award" she received in 2010 from the City of Coral Gables Police Department Victim/Witness Unit to individuals who have distinguished themselves in their commitment and service to victims of crime in Miami-Dade County.
Gordo also served on the board of the Cuban American Bar Association from 2007-2010, on the board of the League of Prosecutors from 2007 to 2010, and was mentorship co-chair at the National Association of Women Judges convention in 2012. She is also a member of the Florida Federalist Society.
Reflecting on her appointment to the Third DCA, Gordo said, "I've had an interesting career and enjoyed every step of the way. It's been a privilege to see our system of justice in action from many perspectives. Now, I am looking forward to continuing to serve our community as a judge on the appellate bench."