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May 2024 Featured Interview with Honorable Federico Moreno

Updated: May 14

Senior U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida 

By Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis 

In our last newsletter, we learned about Judge Moreno’s background, nomination, confirmation, and—above all—his love for both his country and his career. The second half of this interview conveys Judge Moreno’s valuable insights on effective advocacy, advice for new judges and young lawyers, and his plans for the future. 

Q. What piece of advice would you give an incoming new federal judge? 

A. You know, the mistake that I probably made—times were  different in the sense that we had a heavy case load.  One of my former law clerks, Judge Rudy Ruiz, became a judge fairly young, older than me, but still very young, even for today’s  world.  And I said, “Pace yourself.”  I didn’t pace myself.  I mean, things were difficult.  I gave him statistics I had kept from the early 1990s, and he was shocked.  In those days, because of the  criminal case load, we would start court at 8:30 a.m., and you were in court and in trial every single day, unless you were on vacation as a judge.  And I think I was a very efficient state court  judge.  And I probably tried to do too much.  So, I made mistakes in moving the calendar, I think.  When you’re starting out, you say things like, “Alright, we’re gonna do that; bring in the jury!”  And that kind of stuff, I did. And it was just, it was tough. It was tough.  So the advice I would give a new judge: “You’re here for life.  You don’t have to do everything in one year.”

And that’s with the experience that I had as a state court judge.  It’s different.  I  mean, I was very happy that  I was a county court judge, circuit court judge.  That helped me.  Some people have been magistrate judges, state judges.  They have a leg up.  But still, you have to adjust.  And if you’ve only been a lawyer, it’s much harder. 


 I remember being scared when I did traffic court cases.  I mean, you get scared in the hearing, but you think, “What? You’re a judge, you gotta make decisions.”  I had 400 traffic tickets a day.  My  wife says that’s where I was the most tired.  Doing things that no matter what you did, the Republic survives.  But you had to make 400 decisions and move the calendar.  But in federal  court, there’s no speedy civil rule.  You should move fast but not too fast.  And the question is the speed limit that you should have, because of our reputation as being an efficient court. 


The other thing is, talk to your colleagues.  When I came on board, there hadn’t been a new judge  in five years.  I think the last judges were Judges Zloch, Marcus, and Scott.  We would eat lunch several times a week together.  Over in the Atkins tower.  Now, it wasn’t called Atkins Tower.  We  had a little conference room.  And even the judges had their own chairs—I was the last one to  have my name on a chair, so it’s probably sitting there somewhere.


Q. They’re still there!  A bunch.


A. I should take that chair because it’s got my name on it.  But I  think I was the last one.  And you know what it was, you go there and just like at conferences you learn more sometimes from talking over a drink or a meal with your colleagues.  I learned a lot from Judges Marcus and Kehoe and King and Ryskamp and Eaton.  They were all different  judges.  Aronovitz, Hoeveler.  Eventually, we got rid of the lunches when we became bigger.  Despite the attempts of great people.  I know Judge Altman is trying to restart it, and Judge Huck.  Because we’re so busy.  But I think that was a tremendous advantage, and I would encourage the  new judges to do that. 

Q. How many law clerks have you had?


A. I think it’s 74 or something like that. [At this point, Judge  Moreno recruits his courtroom deputy into the conversation]. Shirley, how many law clerks have I had?  76.


Q. And how long has Shirley been with you?


A. Shirley was with me when I was with Thornton Rothman &  Moreno.  She took a little time off when I was a state judge.  Shirley then had a third child, and then she came back when I became a circuit court judge.  And so, I’ve been a federal judge 33 years, a state judge 4 years, minus 1 year when she was out.  So, it’s been a long time.  It’s like a marriage.  


Q. Do you think young lawyers appreciate the importance of being courteous to the courtroom deputy?


A. You know, that’s the best advice I give to everybody.  The  judicial assistant, whatever the label is, and the staff, be nice to them because they’ll tell the judge.  That’s the number one rule.  


Q. How many trials have you presided over?


A. Well, we kept count, until it got close to 800.  I think I went  to 770-something, and then I said, “Why am I even keeping track?”  I still have the trial notes of  every trial.  And the other month, I had a case where a great lawyer, Carl Kafka, came before me on a fugitive defendant from one of my first federal cases.  My original court reporter, Andy  Schwartz, was great, but he has passed on.  And so it was tough to get the trial transcripts. I said, “I have the trial notes.”  I remember what the case is.  This is who testified.  This is who fled in trial, et cetera.  So, we kept track with our notes.  After a while, it doesn’t really matter.  So, it’s close to 800 now.  Not quite.


Q. What do you tink motivated you to pursue your path to the bench?


A. You know, it’s kind of interesting. Because, I told you, I  wanted to be a businessman and I wanted to go back to Venezuela.  And I didn’t.  So, I got  naturalized by Judge Bob Grant, Northern District of Indiana, who was a Congressman in the  1940s and 50s in South Bend. And later he became a federal judge, and they have the Bob Grant Federal Courthouse in South Bend, Indiana. Like we have the King Courthouse.  After I became a federal judge, I went to a judicial conference.  The best thing about the  conferences is you get to meet different judges from other places. And as I got on the bus, I see  Judge Grant, who was still alive then in the early 90s. So, I told him, “You swore me in.” And he was so pleased that that’s where I got the idea.  I said, “You know what you used to say, I repeat  it at every naturalization.  I tell the new citizens, ‘you know, we’re all happy to have our children.  Even if sometimes, they come at the wrong time and they’re “unwanted.” But a naturalized  citizen is super-wanted, both ways. Because, not only does the person want to become an  American, but America wants to have and has screened this person.’”  So, I say, “You know, a  naturalized citizen is even more special because he was so desired.”  And I stole that from Judge  Grant.  I told him and we became good friends.  

So, when you mention the good things that we do, you don’t have to give a long speech, but you  can mention that and then encourage them to register to vote, however they want to vote. And we  tell them that we’re gonna get you in the jury and you’re gonna like it. So those were the good  things.  


Q. What have been the differences between your cases in state court versus federal court?


A. We sometimes have tough cases in federal court. But in state  court, the most dangerous times were when I did the civil division; I had both back then  combined family law and civil law: regular negligence cases.  I would split the three-week period  that way.  One week for family law trials, three weeks for civil trials.  So, I had family law one  week out of the four.  And that was the hardest time.  You could be sitting at a restaurant and see  someone, who might not have a prior record, but you took away his home; and people get so  emotional.  That’s more dangerous I think than many of our criminal cases.  Even though you  obviously have the big Sal Magluta case, which is a unique case, that required security; killing of  lawyers and witnesses and then bribing of jurors.  So that’s certainly a unique case and a long one.  But I still think that the state judges are always under the gun all the time because of the volume of cases.


It’s a great job, like I say. Every state judge wants to be a federal judge.  And every lawyer would  dream of it.  Maybe if we got paid more, more would apply, I don’t know.  And the benefits are  great towards the end because you’ve sacrificed.  Think about it.  Judges stay working technically  for free afterward becoming eligible to take senior status.  So that should tell you what a great job  it is, right?  Technically for free--obviously, staff and things like that cost money, but they’re  working for free when they don’t have to.  To differing degrees, so without senior judges, a lot of district courts couldn’t function.


Q. So you think you will stay here a while more?


A. I think so. I’ve had friends who have left the bench and  joined law firms.  The thing with me, I’ve been a judge for so long.  Maybe people who haven’t  been judges for so long could do it.  It seems like it becomes like a vocation.  Maybe that’s why  we wear robes, right?  It’s a calling.  So, you could be a retired minister, rabbi, or priest.  But  you’re still a minister, rabbi, or priest, kind of forever.  It would be hard.  But, I vacation a lot, I  travel a lot.  Always have, even when I was a state court judge.  But you know the best thing about traveling far away is coming home.  To Miami and to work.  And despite our differences on the  bench, we really bond, even with your colleagues with whom you may disagree. 


Read our May 2024 Newsletter: (Click on the cover below)

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