torres edwinHon. Edwin Torres

Class of 1955

Inducted 1999

In the course of his long and colorful career as a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Edwin Torres was once described by The New York Times as one of the city’s “most experienced and sternest judges and a man known for a crackling eloquence both in and out of the courtroom.”

That eloquence, often imparted personally to killers, drug dealers, junkies and thieves as well to prosecutors, police and defense attorneys, found its way to bookshelves in the 1970s, when Torres decided to write about the cast of characters who came before him. The books he wrote were fiction, but his stories were grounded in the grit and reality of New York, and after they were books, they became popular movies.

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 Drawing on his upbringing in an East Harlem barrio, his experience as the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney in Manhattan as well as a defense lawyer, and his 30 years on the bench, Torres produced three novels: “Q & A,” “Carlito’s Way” and “After Hours.” The latter two were combined into the 1993 movie “Carlito’s Way,” with Al Pacino as a Puerto Rican drug dealer and hustler; “Q & A,” a 1990 film starring Nick Nolte, concerned an investigation into corrupt cops.

Torres was born in New York on Jan. 7, 1931 to parents who had emigrated from Jayuya, Puerto Rico. His father was a post office security guard and education was a high priority in his family. Young Torres made it into Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s elite institutions (“unusual for a Puerto Rican in those days,” he told The New York Times). Following graduation, he was accepted as a student at City College in 1948, but left in his junior year to join the Navy. He returned to CCNY in 1954, graduated cum laude, and earned his law degree at Brooklyn Law School while waiting tables at night.

He was admitted to the New York State bar in 1958 and became an assistant district attorney. A year later, his knowledge of Spanish keyed his entrance into the homicide bureau, where he was asked to assist in the questioning of Spanish-speaking witnesses in what became one of the city’s most notorious murder cases: the trial of Sal “the Capeman” Agron, who was convicted of slaying two teenagers. Later, he left the D.A.’s office and became a defense lawyer.

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 In 1977, Torres was appointed to the New York State Criminal Court by then-mayor Abraham Beame and was elected a State Supreme Court justice in 1979. When he reached the mandatory retirement age of 77 in 2008, he left the bench, but kept on writing, working on a screenplay that chronicled the days when heroin was introduced into his neighborhood. He says he always had an ear for dialog. He surely demonstrated that in his own courtroom, once telling a convicted murderer during sentencing, “Your parole officer has not yet been born.”