Judge Torres-Lugo - The Person Behind the Robe

By Ed “Flash” Ferenc

A native of Puerto Rico, her family robbed, learning the English language using a dictionary and going to law school.   Many barriers to overcome, but determination and perseverance made Judge Torres-Lugo what she is today.  

You grew up in Puerto Rico as one of five children.  I’m sure many memories were created in your younger years.  Can you share a few of them?
 One of my memorable pastimes in Puerto Rico was spending the weekends camping at the beach with friends and older siblings. We loved to play sports at the beach and have Judge Torres-Lugo campfires. 
Another fun memory is my brother and I performing disco dancing in local TV shows and events.  We were part of a dancing studio. We were fans of Donna Summer, Diana Ross and the movie Grease. 

Growing up, you were all encouraged to seek higher education.  That point was driven home when you were a teenager on a family vacation.  What happened then? 

My father and mother were from very humble roots. They worked very hard to change their life for the better and the five of us. I remember our father lining us up to discuss our grades and the following steps to improve. After a burglary in our home, my father told us that when you have an education, you can be taken to a desert and be stripped of all your possession; however, no one can steal the knowledge in your mind, a treasure that will help you start over again no matter the circumstances. He wanted his children to be self-sufficient and independent. He never told us what to study, but to obtain an education that makes us happy and allows us to be in that field for more than thirty years.  
Why did you decide to become an attorney? 
I always defended my peers with the principal and teachers in high school. I was the student’s mediator, always the one that could talk to superiors, students, and parents. A teacher started to tell me that I should be an attorney.  Although I’m not sure if that was why I took that path, it made me research the profession. I realized I could make a difference and help others.
Going to law school, how difficult was it?   In 1988, you were hired into a prestigious law firm and then got a job with the national parks in Puerto Rico.  That had to be celebratory moment in your life.  Can you tell us about that time? 
Puerto Rico is a small island in the Caribbean and the legal profession is highly competitive. When I started law school, I had my first child. Hence, I had the motivation, drive, and inspiration to continue my educational goals. I would describe it as being “in the zone.”  The hard work paid off which lead to employment at a prestigious law firm before graduation, subject to passing the bar. I passed the bar and started working for a mainly civil and employment law firm in Puerto Rico.

I landed on my feet, but that was just the beginning.  Little did I know what lessons life would teach me. 

How did you find your way to Cleveland and what’s the first thing you did here?
My husband obtained a job in Cleveland, bringing our family to the U.S.A. around 1990. It was my first time in Ohio and we had two daughters then.   Currently, in Puerto Rico, most students learn English in elementary school, which was not the case when I was growing up. It was a distressing experience, from working in a prestigious law firm to being in an unknown place, not knowing the language, and being unemployed! 

The uncertainty was scary, to say the least. And keep in mind, there was no YouTube, social media, or technology to help you learn another language. So I decided it was dictionary time!  I would study until the wee hours of the night like my life depended on it because it did.  At the time, the only work I could do was babysitting. I remember writing on a paper to figure out the charges for babysitting. I babysat during the day, studied English with my dictionary to translate what I was attempting to read and listened to English TV programs with subtitles to understand the words said.  It was a challenging time for all of us. 

Three or so years later, after taking the bar exam course at Cleveland State University, I felt ready to take the Ohio bar. I needed to take the course to learn about Ohio law and to be able to differentiate it from Puerto Rico law. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the U.S.A. Hence, we must abide by the U.S.A. constitution.  I was 33 years old; a new life experience commenced. I was a different person than the one that came to Ohio—humbled by the life experience of struggling in many aspects of my life. I am a better person because of the vicissitudes I experienced.

What do you like about your job here and do you feel you’re making a difference in people’s lives?
My private law office practice included a diverse group, mainly low-income minority groups.  My life experiences in Ohio taught me all the struggles that low-income and minorities go through, thus, the reason I decided to serve them. I had never experienced in Puerto Rico what I did in Ohio.  It took me years to get to know my constituents and the Cleveland community leaders. 

It does take a village to raise a child. The guidance and life experience planted the drive in my heart to be a judge—the need to impart justice with impartiality and depict unity in diversity in courts that served them.  It took me four times to make it as a judge. It could be said that it was an impossible achievement, but when there is a will, there is a way.  God uses people to make it happen if you have faith and believe.  

If anything, I want to show with my experience that all is possible if you believe.  Please do not feel you failed, but you learned how to perfect your ways and the necessary lessons. Do not give up on yourself.  Do not allow others to dictate who you are and where you can go. All naysayers are the fear in you voicing it out back to you; overcome your fears to come out of it transformed into the person you are meant to become. You are the only one that can deny your future.

Copyright© 2012 | Home | Terms of Use | ADA Notice Site MapWebmaster | RDWeb | WebMail