Isidore Torres, former Wayne County jurist, dies at 73

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
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Judge Isidore B. Torres came from humble beginnings, working as a migrant worker, becoming an attorney and eventually becoming the first Hispanic jurist to serve on the bench in Wayne County, his family said.

As he rose professionally, Judge Torres remained committed to the ideal that all people must have equal access to justice, and serving as an example for the Chicano community, said his son, Felipe Torres.

“I think that when people saw him and met him for the first time, I don’t think they realized that he was a judge,” he said. “I don’t think that they realized when they found out he was a judge that he was a migrant worker when he was a little boy ... That he came from such humble beginnings, fought his way up to become a judge, but still spent a lot of time in the community helping people navigate whatever legal troubles they had.”

Judge Torres of Clarkston died in Troy Beaumont Hospital on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, from COVID-19. He had been battling central nervous system lymphoma, his family said. He was 73.

He was born Dec. 13, 1947, in San Antonio, Texas, and lived in Bay City as a young adult.

After graduating from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he earned a juris doctorate degree from Wayne State University Law School.

In 1978, Judge Torres began working as senior assistant corporation counsel for the city of Detroit and later co-founded the law firm of Torres & Horvath.

In 1983, Gov. James Blanchard appointed Judge Torres to 36th District Court, where he became the first Hispanic magistrate and later judge in the Wayne County court system.

Judge Torres also served on the former city of Detroit Recorder’s Court and as presiding judge of Wayne County Circuit Court Civil Division until he retired from the bench in 2010. He also served as a visiting judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals. 

He was appointed to serve on commissions including the Michigan Supreme Court Racial/Ethnic Task Force, Michigan Sentencing Guidelines Commission and State Bar of Michigan Open Justice Commission. He also was a founding member of the Hispanic Bar Association, his family said.

"For him, the idea was everyone deserves a piece of the American dream," Felipe Torres said. "He had seen and he had experienced a lot of discrimination based on the color of his skin. He had seen a lot of discrimination based on his accent.

"For him, what he wanted, he didn't want to become a judge because he liked authority ... As a person involved in politics, you subject yourself to a lot of attacks. Founded or unfounded. For him he wanted his family to see that Chicanos can do this and he could do it.

"(That) whenever anyone tells you, you can't do it, you're not qualified, you can ignore them and you can show them that they're wrong by continuing to go after what you want. He wanted other Latinos to see regardless of the color of their skin, their accent they had a place in this country, they had a place in this city."

As a child, Felipe Torres said one of his fondest memories of his father was joining him to pass out Christmas gifts and food at the nonprofit La Sed in Detroit. 

"That was always fun," he said. "I think it’s rare for people who are fairly high up in the political arena to be so closely connected in the community."

Judge Isidore B. Torres

Torres said that has much as his father worked and was involved in the community, his greatest pride was his family. He would work on cars with his children and take one of his daughters to her dance recitals with the Raices Mexicanas de Detroit in southwest Detroit.

"We were always together," Torres said. "We were always enjoying each other’s company."

As an adult, Felipe Torres said his father was a great influence on his career. The younger Torres is an attorney with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and a judge advocate with the Army National Guard.

At one point, father and son both worked for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, he said, with the elder Torres serving as the director of the Wayne County Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit.

“To be able to go upstairs and say hi to your father and to share that experience with him, to get practice tips and jury selection ideas and how to approach a case, how do I present a case and how do a develop my investigation … Just being able to bounce ideas off of him was truly wonderful,” he said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the judge exemplified courage, hard work and concern for others.

“Judge Torres was a fearless fighter for civil rights, equality, and especially for his beloved Latino community. When you practiced before him, you had to be well prepared for any nuance in your case," Worthy said. "He was a family man, a tireless advocate, and a loyal friend and mentor. There will never be another like him.”

Larry Arreguin said Judge Torres stood out when he met him 30 years ago, because there were few Hispanics in the judicial system or politics. 

"He was an incredible humble person," said Arreguin, chief of staff for Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland. "He always talked about the idea that there were many before us that never had the opportunities that we had, whether it was attending high school, attending college (or) being able to get involved and be active in your community.

"There were all these other folks who came before us who never got the acknowledgment, never got the credit. He stressed that we stood on the shoulders of many many others ... He's always maintained a presence in the community."

In addition to his son, Judge Torres is survived by his wife, Dr. Goharik Karian Torres, EdD; daughters Laura Torres and Marissa Savitskie; and five grandchildren. He also is survived by brothers John, Abel and Eduardo;  sister Marina Perez; and Elizabeth Torres.

A celebration of life service will be held at a later date.

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