Frank Torres, Judge Who Sought More Latinos on the Bench, Dies at 93
Frank Torres, a former New York State Supreme Court justice who, as the son of a family court lawyer and later father of a federal judge, championed greater Hispanic representation in the legal profession and on the bench, died Thursday in the Bronx. He was 93 years old.
Her death, in a hospital from complications from pneumonia, was confirmed by her daughter, Judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court in Manhattan.
To help increase the proportion of Hispanic lawyers and judges, Judge Torres encouraged high school and college students to study law and lawyers to aspire to judge positions, both elected and appointed. And he publicly called on law firms to broaden their nets when hiring, and judicial selection boards to seek more Hispanic candidates.
In 1991, in a New York State Bar Journal article, he complained that with 1.8 million Hispanics in New York and 2,000 Hispanic lawyers practicing in the state, there clearly was not a only Hispanic federal judge in New York.
“This absence,” he wrote, was widely viewed as “a vestige of unequal opportunity and racial discrimination in the United States.”
His complaint was filed shortly before Judge John Carro, who had been the first Puerto Rican appointed to the New York Appeals Division, withdrew his candidacy as federal judge. He had been nominated by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, but the Republican administration of President George HW Bush had sat on the nomination for several years.
When Judge Carro stepped down, however, Senator Moynihan’s judicial selection committee was ready with a replacement: another Bronx judge, Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed, and who later became the first Hispanic jurist to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Judge Torres seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, Felipe, who in 1953 was one of the first Puerto Ricans elected to the New York State Assembly and a decade later was appointed to court of the family.
The eldest, Mr. Torres, represented his constituents in the South Bronx in Albany from 1952 to 1961, when he retired. His son Frank succeeds him, elected insurgent.
Eduardo Padro, a retired judge of the State Supreme Court, New York’s highest trial court, said of Judge Torres in a telephone interview: “What set him apart was a humanity. fundamental. When I arrived, I was an outsider, a stone thrower. I didn’t see myself as a player until I had the opportunity to work with him and gain new respect for the bench.
Judge Padro, who had been a lawyer for Judge Torres, said he made it an article of faith “that the Puerto Rican community, the Latino community, that people of color have a right to aspire to – that those who never considered the law had the right to aspire to a career in it, and those who were in the law had the right to aspire to the bench.
Frank Torres was born January 25, 1928 in Manhattan to parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. His father, Felipe Torres, a lawyer who practiced in East Harlem, was appointed judge by Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. His mother was Felipe Torres’ first wife, Flerida Barrios, a housewife.
Frank’s sister, Aida, was raised by their mother, but when Frank was 4.5 years old he moved in with his father and second wife, Inocencia Bello de Torres, with whom Felipe Torres had three more children.
Judge Analisa Torres said her grandfather “imprinted on my father the principle that Latinos who have had the opportunity to obtain higher education are morally obligated to defend the rights of the Spanish speaking community.”
Frank studied violin at the Manhattan School of Music (as a teenager he played first violin in a youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall) and graduated from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
He received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from City College of New York in 1951 and a law degree from St. John’s University Law School in 1955. He took evening law classes; during the day he was an investigator and interviewer for the town’s welfare department.
In 1950 he married Yolanda Marquez Torres, who became professor of psychology at City College. After his death in 2013, he moved to Pittsburgh to live with his daughter Andrea Mahone, a retired teacher.
Besides Ms. Mahone and Judge Analisa Torres, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2013, he is survived by one son, Ramon; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Pamela, died of leukemia at the age of 4; a day care center in the Bronx founded by Justice Torres and his wife was named in his memory.
After law school, Justice Torres served as an assistant prosecutor in the Bronx. He was one of the founders of the Ponce de Leon Federal Savings Bank in New York (known as Ponce Bank), one of the first banking institutions specifically created to serve the Hispanic population. During his sole term in the Assembly (he was defeated in re-election in 1964), he fought for the elimination of English literacy tests for Puerto Rican voters. The tests were ultimately banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“He was serious, worried, but soft-spoken,” said Murray Richman, the crafty defense attorney from the Bronx known locally as “Don’t worry Murray.” He added that Judge Torres “was involved in every major Hispanic group that existed in the ’60s and’ 70s.”
After his time in the Assembly, Justice Torres worked for 15 years in the New York office of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he became director of civil rights and equal opportunity. Mayor Edward I. Koch appointed him to Family Court in 1980.
He served in the criminal court as an acting Supreme Court judge and was elected to the Supreme Court in 1987. He served until 2001.
Even on the bench, Judge Torres continued to push for the appointment and election of more Hispanic judges. He was instrumental in founding what has become the Association of Latino Judges.
Carlos Cuevas, a former city clerk and friend of Judge Torres since they were scouts in East Harlem, said of him: “He was worried about the guy on the street and if he was getting a fair trial.
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