Eight Bells: Juan Torruella

Published on October 27th, 2020

Juan R. Torruella, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit who was that court’s first Hispanic member and an advocate for U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, died October 26. He was 87.

Torruella was born in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico on June 7, 1933. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 1954 with a B.S. and received his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1957.

After graduating from law school, Torruella was a law clerk to the Honorable Pedro Pérez-Pimentel of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board, and worked in private practice.

He was first appointed to the district court in Puerto Rico by Gerald Ford in 1974 and then appointed to the 1st Circuit in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Puerto Rican to serve on a U.S. federal appeals court. Torruella was a federal judge for more than four decades.

Torruella was also a sailor and represented Puerto Rico in four Olympic Games, competing in the Finn (1964), Flying Dutchman (1968 and 1972), and Soling (1976). He also competed in the 1975 and 1979 Pan American Games and served as a coach at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.

He made several long-distance sea voyages, including two transatlantic crossings in 1992, was co-founder Puerto Rico Yachting Federation, and an ISAF-certified International Judge.

The judge has also served the Olympics on the Court of Arbitration for Sports three times (2008, 2010, and 2012). The Arbitration Court meets 10 days before the Games begin and hears cases from athletes who feel they’ve been disqualified unfairly or feel they’ve had an inaccurate or unfair drug test penalty.

The International Olympic Committee awarded Torruella both the Olympic Order and the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for his service.

In 2008, Dick Rose reported in Sailing World that it was Torruella, in his position as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, who wrote a 1994 landmark decision concerning the Racing Rules of Sailing.

He made it clear the racing rules should apply between boats that are in or near the racing area and intend to race, are racing, or have been racing, and that when the racing rules apply between competing sailboats, they replace the applicable government right-of-way rules.

Torruella is survived by his wife, Judith, to whom he was married for more than 65 years, and their four children.

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