Sunday, March 3, 2019
The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board has imposed an interim suspension of an attorney for crimes committed in Ohio.
A Washington-based lawyer who is a former trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday after he admitted to sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy three times.
Justin Torres, 43, of Alexandria, Virginia, could be released after serving just six months behind bars after he pleaded guilty to three counts of gross sexual imposition, each a third-degree felony.
County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Gaul said at the hearing that imposing a lengthy sentence on Torres, who faced up to nine years in prison, would not be appropriate. But the judge also said he couldn’t allow a sex-offender off without prison time, and pegged the appropriate prison stint at six months.
“I think what serves the community is for this event in your life to end, and for a new journey to begin today,” Gaul said.
Gaul said that Torres, a victim of child sexual abuse himself who sobbed through a nearly 20-minute statement in which he apologized to the boy and to his family and begged Gaul not to send him to prison, was the most remorseful person he had ever seen in his 28 years on the bench.
“Abuse, abandonment and neglect led us here,” Gaul said.
Torres will be eligible to apply for early release after six months, and Gaul signaled that he planned to grant that request, place Torres on five years of probation supervision and put in place therapy that Gaul said would restore Torres back to the community.
As part of the sentence, Torres must register as a sex offender every six months for the next 25 years.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said in a statement to cleveland.com that “nobody is above the law.”
Torres resigned his position as counsel at Schaerr Jaffe on Friday citing “personal reasons,” a spokeswoman for the law firm said in a statement sent to cleveland.com Saturday. The spokeswoman said the firm did not know about the “troubling personal allegations” against Torres until Saturday.
“Neither the proceeding nor the surrounding events were disclosed during or after the hiring process, and the firm had no reason to suspect any problems," Sarah Norton said. “The firm wishes the victim, as well as Mr. Torres and his family, the strength to move forward and heal from these unfortunate events.”
Torres grew up in a childhood that was fraught with abuse and neglect, he and his lawyer, Stephen Bradley, told Gaul. Torres’s own father was sentenced to prison in 2013 for raping a relative of Torres when both Torres and his father’s victims were children.
Torres worked as a political appointee in the Bush Administration, serving as an aide to the director of the agency that runs the AmeriCorps program, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2005.Torres, then 30 with three children, told the newspaper that he and his wife were about to sell their condo and use the money to pay for Torres to go to law school at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, a move they hoped would lead to a decent career.
Torres became the editor of the school’s law and policy review. He landed a job at the D.C. office of a global law firm where he specialized in environmental and appellate law until 2015, when he joined the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Less than a year later, Torres left government and was named senior associate at the burgeoning King & Spalding, another international law firm that, according to a November 2018 article in The American Lawyer saw its revenue surpass $1 billion.
Torres was part of the legal team that represented oil giant ConocoPhillips in a highly publicized lawsuit filed by San Francisco and Oakland accusing the company, along with Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, of knowing the environmental dangers of fossil fuels but continuing to promote them as environmentally safe, the Associated Press reported.
The judge overseeing the case dismissed the lawsuit in June.
Last year, Torres, the oldest of eight children who grew up in a household of abuse, earned more than $350,000 a year, a pre-sentence investigation found.
Torres said he channeled the anger from his childhood into his academics and his career. But his father’s 2013 conviction was a trigger for him, he said, and his life slowly came crashing down.
He said he had never told anyone about the abuse he suffered as a child until 2011, when he told his wife, just before his father was prosecuted. He said his wife suggested that he seek help, but he refused.
“I was a coward,” he said. “The irony is, the people in this courtroom would have been the first people to help me.”
Torres turned to abuse in late 2016, while his family was visiting his wife’s family in Fairview Park for the holidays. The boy, who was 10 years old the time, later told police that Torres abused him on two separate occasions, once around Thanksgiving and once around Christmas that year, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Steven Szelegiewicz said.
Torres abused the boy a third time when he and his family returned to Fairview Park for Thanksgiving in 2017.
The boy eventually told a family member about the abuse, and prosecutors charged him by information in September. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 29.
“His actions can’t be excused by his past,” Szelegiewicz said in court Thursday. “He inflicted the same pain that he says he went through on another child.”
Torres began working at Schaerr Jaffe on Nov. 1, and worked there until his Friday resignation. He is also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian organization that ascribes to an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. After he pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse charges has made several appearances on conservative media outlets in December, including the Lars Larson Show, to discuss the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census. One of those appearances was on theDove TV, a media company which its website says “exists to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ though all media platforms.”
Members of the boy’s family sat in the back of the courtroom Thursday behind Szelegiewicz and Fairview Park Police Detective Mark Miller. Torres’s wife sat in the first row behind him.
Torres’s 16-minute speech to the court began with a series of apologizes, starting with the boy. Torres said that, since he has gotten treatment after his arrest, he looked back on the moments that he abused him and the fear and confusion the boy must have felt and could not believe that “I was the author of that kind of cruelty.”
“This was not your fault," he said. "This was entirely my fault. I am to blame, and I am so sorry.”
The boy’s mother, reading from a letter, said she hoped seeing Torres facing consequences in court for his abuse make her son know what happened to him was wrong that he is worthy of protection, and affirm his bravery in coming forward, she said.
“Tragic origins or not, since it led to behavior of this gravity, I believe he has shown with his actions that he is a risk to children,” the mother said.
She then asked to read words directly to Torres. Both she and Torres burst into tears as she read as she told Torres that he violated the trust of her, her husband and her children.
“All of our lives have been hurt by this and all of us will have to pick up the pieces from this and do our best to begin again,” she said.
The boy’s family members, including his mother, walked over to Torres’s wife and embraced her after Torres was led out of the courtroom.
The attorney is directed to show cause regarding final discipline. (Mike Frisch)