Robert Luck
Robert Luck (AM Holt)

Getting picked for the bench as early as he did came as a bit of a surprise to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert Luck.

It was his first try, and he had just turned 34.

“People said, ‘It’s a process,’ ” he said. “You put in your name to show interest.”

When Gov. Rick Scott appointed him in 2013, Luck had been an assistant U.S. attorney for barely 5½ years and a lawyer for less than 10. But his desire to be a judge had been burning in him for almost as long, since he had clerked for Judge Ed Carnes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Getting there, though, took a roundabout path, and an epiphany in Washington.

Luck is a true native. He was born at South Miami Hospital, raised in North Miami Beach. His father was a truck dealer, his mother a teacher, but Luck had other aspirations, and their encouragement.

“I always wanted to serve.”

That led, first, to an economics degree at University of Florida and a stint on Capitol Hill.

“I applied to just about every single congressman and senator,” he said.

He wound up working for both Paul Coverdell of Georgia and John Kyl of Arizona as a legislative correspondent, answering constituent letters as a “sort of a ghostwriter or scribe.”

He hadn’t planned on being a lawyer when he went to Washington, but he said he noticed “the ones who really had it figured out were the attorneys.”

‘Bad Habits’

After a year there, he returned to UF for law school. He was editor of the law review and graduated in the top 10 in his class.

That led to his clerking for Carnes the first time, in Montgomery, Ala. When the clerkship ended a year later, he went to work for Greenberg Traurig as an associate in the appellate section. A year later, Carnes invited Luck back as his first career law clerk.

It inspired him—to be a judge and a careful legal writer.

Carnes “was a scholar-writer among judges,” Luck said. He came away with a firm belief that “lawyers and judges, both orally and when we write, should speak in a way that the everyday person can understand.”

In fact, Luck expressed those thoughts in an article for Young Lawyer titled, “The Bad Habits of Legal Writers, and Why Young Lawyers Should Avoid Them” in which he admonished against over-footnoting, overcapitalization and overuse of jargon.

“Legal concepts and analysis are difficult enough for the reader to grasp without having to mine the sentence for nuggets of meaning.”

Luck stayed in the clerkship two years but jumped at the “opportunity to come home.”

That meant joining the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami. He started in the economic crimes section investigating Medicare fraud and Ponzi schemes, among other things.

While there, he won a guilty plea in the largest student visa fraud to date, a guilty verdict and 20-year prison sentence for a doctor who ran a $50 million Medicare fraud scheme, and a guilty plea in the case of a captain whose boat tipped over as he attempted to smuggle dozens of Dominicans into the United States. Six drowned.

Get It Done

By the time Luck put his name in for the bench, he was deputy chief of the office’s major crimes division, had handled 19 jury trials, and was in federal court an average of 15 to 20 times a month.

In his application to the Miami-Dade Judicial Nominating Commission, he listed that as one of the things that made him a good choice.

“I am not afraid to try cases. I have had trials that went on for months, and I have had trials that were no longer than a couple of days. I’ve had trials with thousands of pages of exhibits and others with only a handful of them,” he wrote. “As a judge, where a case is ripe for trial, I will not put off another day what can be done now, no matter how complicated the case is or how long the trial will take.”

Still, he didn’t expect to get picked on his first try. He looked at it as part of “a process” that would take a few attempts. “You show interest,” he said, and then “maybe after a while your application might go to the governor’s office.”

Since taking the bench, he said one of his goals is to run his courtroom as “efficiently and as fairly” as possible, but “one thing I’ve learned very quickly is that you have to be flexible.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I ask that all motions be in writing: A, I read everything; and B, it allows me to do research in advance so I can make an expeditious decision when I come to the bench.”