Judge Felipe N. Torres ’26 Honored for His Trailblazing Career as a Lawyer, Legislator, and Jurist


A pathbreaking Afro-Latino leader and legal trailblazer, the late Judge Felipe N. Torres ’26 was remembered by his granddaughter Judge Analisa Torres as “a democratizing force in New York” who “believed lawyers should use their skills for the good of community.”

Torres, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, spoke at length about her grandfather’s life and influence as he was inducted into Fordham Law’s Alumni of Distinction. She was joined by Tanya K. Hernández, Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law, for a fireside chat exploring how Torres’ upbringing in Puerto Rico and service in the Army influenced his decision to pursue a career in the law, his time as an evening student at Fordham Law, and his core philosophical and legal beliefs.

“It’s extremely important that we tell the stories of leaders such as Judge Torres,” said Joseph Landau, associate dean for academic affairs, during his welcoming remarks. “Frankly, the legal profession hasn’t done enough to recognize the contributions of Afro-Latinos like Judge Torres who have given so much to our profession and broken barriers. We are very proud today to celebrate his life and impact as one of Fordham Law’s most distinguished alumni who has inspired our students and will continue to do so through his legacy.”

After Landau’s and Hernandez’s introductions, Judge Analisa Torres recounted her grandfather’s life story for the audience, which included family and friends of Torres, alumni, students, and faculty.

Torres led a life of “firsts.” He was born on a farm in 1897, in the town of Salinas on the island of Puerto Rico. A year later, during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. military invaded and occupied Puerto Rico, displacing Spain as the island’s colonial ruler. The American government instituted sweeping economic and political changes, including an official campaign of “Americanization” of Puerto Rican children.

Torres was a member of the first generation to attend the newly-constructed schools where English-only instruction was imposed. In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship under the Jones Act. After enlisting in the army and serving as a second lieutenant in World War I, Torres settled in New York City, becoming a pionero of the nascent Puerto Rican community. His path led him to Fordham Law School, where he earned his tuition by washing dishes at the Biltmore and Commodore Hotels. In 1926, Torres graduated and embarked on a law career in midtown Manhattan, later relocating to Harlem where he was named president of the Harlem Lawyers Association, now known as the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.

After moving to the South Bronx, he ventured into politics and became the first Puerto Rican assemblyman to be elected from the Bronx, serving from 1953 to 1962. His advocacy encompassed challenging the English-only literacy test for voters, championing workers’ rights, fighting for equal pay for women, opposing discrimination in housing, and advocating for the right to counsel for criminal defendants. Torres also helped found the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the Ponce de Leon Federal Savings Bank, which addressed the mortgage needs of the burgeoning Latino community. In 1963, he was appointed the first Puerto Rican judge on the New York State Family Court, a role he held until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. After leaving the bench, Torres continued practicing law in the South Bronx well into his 90s. His wife of 58 years, Inocencia “Censita” Bello Paoli de Torres, died in 1990. Torres died four years later, leaving an indelible legacy as a dedicated lawyer, legislator, and jurist.

The Alumni of Distinction honors graduates of the Law School who have broken barriers in the legal profession, opened doors for underrepresented groups, and blazed trails for future generations. Past honorees include Eunice Carter ’32, Geraldine Ferraro ’60, Ruth Whitehead Whaley ’24, and Franklin H. Williams ’45.

The event was presented in partnership with The Maloney Library, the Center on Race, Law and Justice, and the Center for Judicial Events & Clerkships.

View more photos from the event below:

Alumni of Distinction: Judge Torres (11.08.2023)


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