You are here

José V. Toledo Biography

Judge José Víctor Toledo, known to his family as Pepito, and Pepe to his colleagues, was born in Barrio Hato Arriba, Arecibo, Puerto Rico on August 14, 1931. His father was José Toledo-Vélez, and his mother, Isabel Toledo-Alamo. Judge Toledo was the youngest of seven children. His mother Isabel passed away when Judge Toledo was about two years old, and his eldest brother José Héctor, twelve years his senior, at the tender age of 14, helped his father José to raise the family. The children's beloved maternal uncle, Domingo Toledo-Alamo, who lived in Río Piedras (close to Colegio San José), a well-known attorney and law professor known as the Maestro de Maestros, also helped guide the family with great love and dedication, high moral values and sensibility.
Judge Toledo's sisters, Nydia Isabel and Ilia, were essential in Pepito's upbringing, and later during his life. When Judge Toledo reached the age of 7, he attended the Julio Seijo Public School in Hato Arriba. Nydia Isabel, took him to school daily. She waited for him at noon, and returned him to school after going home for lunch, making sure that he did not miss any school intervals. Nydia Isabel, Ilia and Judge Toledo's eldest brother, José Héctor, wanted to provide Judge Toledo and his brother Domingo the best guidance and education. They convinced their father to allow Pepito and Domingo to enroll as boarding students at Colegio San José, a Marianist Catholic preparatory school of academic excellence for young men [grades 7 to 12], which excelled in developing capable, responsible, and sensitive Christian leaders, duty-bound to the service of God and fellow man.
Nydia Isabel thought that Judge Toledo should pursue higher education in the mainland because he had done so well at Colegio San José, and was ready for a new challenge in life. At the age of 18 (1948-1949) he attended Lon Morris Junior College, in Jacksonville, Texas, the oldest private two-year college of arts and sciences in the tradition of the United Methodist Church, committed to provide students with a quality education in a Christian environment. From 1949 to 1950, he attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas.
In 1952, Judge Toledo obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida. He attended the University of Florida Law School at Gainesville from 1952 to 1953, and then enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico Law School, where he obtained a Juris Doctor degree in 1955. He passed the Bar Examination with flying colors and was admitted to the Puerto Rico Bar in March 1956. On July 9, 1955 he married Clara J. Buscaglia. They had two sons, José R. and Carlos J., and three daughters Clara I., Sonia M., and Maria I.
From June to August 1956 Judge Toledo served as a District Court Judge of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in the towns of Guayanilla and Yauco, until he was drafted by the U.S. Army. In the Army, he was commissioned as First Lieutenant and served from 1956 to 1960 as a member of the Judge Advocate Corps stationed at Fort Brooke in San Juan.
From 1960 to 1961, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Puerto Rico. When Judge Hiram R. Cancio was the Attorney General of Puerto Rico, he wanted to secure for the Department of Justice the best talent available. Because he had received the best recommendations from all possible sources about Judge Toledo, both as to his academic proficiency and as to his character, he invited Judge Toledo to join the Justice Department, offering him the best working conditions permitted by the Personnel Law and regulations. Judge Toledo met with then-Attorney General Cancio several times to discuss the offer, thought it over carefully, and regretfully declined, preferring to enter the private practice of law.
In January 1961, Toledo joined the Rivera-Zayas, Rivera-Cestero & Rua law firm, becoming a partner in January 1962. By March 1963, he was opening his own law firm with attorneys Aldo Segurola-De Diego, and Carlos Romero-Barceló, his long-time friend. In 1967, he became a partner of the Toledo & Córdova law firm. He continued in private practice in Old San Juan until 1970. From 1969 to 1970, he was also a member and secretary of the Puerto Rico Civil Rights Commission, and of the San Juan Municipal Employee Grievances Committee.
As a citizen, he excelled as a distinguished leader of the Exchange Clubs of Puerto Rico, involved and committed at the local and the national levels.
On June 2, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Judge Toledo to serve on the United States District Court to a new seat created by Public Law 91-271, 84 Stat. 294. On September 25, 1970 the United States Senate confirmed Judge Toledo, who received his commission on December 1, 1970, becoming, at 39, the youngest federal judge in the federal judicial system. Judge Toledo became Chief Judge on January 31, 1974, taking the oath during Chief Judge Hiram R. Cancio's retirement ceremony. He served in office until his untimely death on February 3, 1980 at the age of 49.
When Judge Toledo joined the bench, fellow Judge Cancio had already voiced the crisis and concerns of the excessive caseload in the federal court in Puerto Rico. Various visiting judges had been assisting with the civil docket and the most complex criminal matters. In 1974, as Chief Judge, Judge Toledo began to restructure the Court. He surveyed and assessed the situation closely, and convinced the Administrative Office of the United States Courts provide the resources which were needed by the Court. With the assistance of the Clerk of the Court, a complete review of the Clerk's Office's needs was conducted, and all the necessary studies were made to justify the allocation of funds to embark on a series of needed changes. Judge Toledo asked the Clerk to visit six small and large-size courts to learn how they were organized to handle workloads, the kinds of equipment utilized, and what special supporting staff was allocated.
Judge Toledo, a doer, was the first Chief Judge in our Court to start preparing and implementing changes for the Court's future role. With allocated means finally in hand, he took action to remedy the Court's situation, beginning with the electronic modernization of the judges' chambers, staff re-alignment and expansion, improving the salaries for all staff employees, and presenting the justification for four new additional judges in light of the Court's excessive workload. Because of the language issues involved in the Court's business, he fought hard so that each Judge was assigned an interpreter. He requested additional Court personnel, including a pro se law clerk to handle prisoner complaints. He became aware that cases were taking too long to reach termination, and was deeply concerned with the effects of this problem upon the parties, their attorneys and the public in general. He immediately opened the doors to distinguished law students to do their third-year legal practice in this Court. Judge Toledo started the program with a student from the University of Puerto Rico and made the necessary arrangements to have two or three students per semester assigned as student law clerks for every judge in the Court. It was of great help for the Court and a great experience for the judges. It is still a practice employed by many judges in the Court.
One enormous and awesome task that fell on Judge Toledo's shoulders was the implementation of the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, in view of the constraints of the Court, the lack of a sufficient number of judges, and staffing limitations. Judge Toledo was concerned that the needs of the criminal cases, which were given a priority by law, would not hamper the handling of the civil cases. As a result of the recommendation by the commission established by law to implement the Speedy Trial Act, the Federal Public Defender's Office was established in the District of Puerto Rico. Additionally, because of the exigencies of the Speedy Trial Act and the strains it placed on the then three sitting judges' available time to handle civil cases, Judge Toledo initiated, with stubborn hard work and the assistance of the Clerk, the studies needed to justify the increase of this Court from a three-judge court to a seven-judge court, and took his fight to four different fronts: the Judicial Council of the First Circuit, the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Administrative Office of United States Courts and, through the office of Resident Commissioner Baltasar Corrada del Río, to Congress. His efforts bore fruit in 1978, when four new judgeships were created for this court. In 1975, a second United States Magistrate Judge position had been obtained under Judge Toledo's leadership. He was also instrumental in obtaining professional library services for the growing needs of the bench and staff, convincing the first circuit librarian to create a librarian's position to manage the Court's collections and provide services to the judges and their staffs. A Satellite Library of the First Circuit was created and a professional librarian joined the Court in June 1980, four months before Judge Toledo's death.
Judge Toledo inherited the responsibility to construct a new courthouse in Hato Rey. Leaving Old San Juan was not easy for Judge Toledo, who loved the city, the physical surroundings and atmosphere, but he came to understand that there was no better location for the Court than Hato Rey, though he did try to convince the General Services Administration to construct the new courthouse building in Old San Juan. When that did not come about, he turned his efforts to the restoration and preservation of the Old San Juan Courthouse & Post Office.
Almost 19 years after Judge Toledo's death, the restored United States Courthouse and Post Office in Old San Juan was fittingly designated as the José V. Toledo Federal Building and United States Courthouse, by Public Law 106-077 of October 22, 1999. The judges of the United States District Court had unanimously recommended the naming of the Old San Juan federal courthouse in honor of Judge Toledo because, as a fellow district judge said, "Judge Toledo was not only admired by his colleagues but he had earned the respect of the public, the bar and the bench . . ., and he had patience as a judge, impartiality, fairness, and decorum in the adjudication of the controversies brought before him. He was frank, but not blunt. He set high standards for himself, yet he had a refreshing humility and capacity to understand the problems of others. He was not only a learned jurist and an outstanding citizen, he was an excellent human being. His character was reflected in the language of his opinions . . . he was thorough in his research, clear, concise, and to the point. His style was not ornate . . . his preference was for clear and serviceable prose."
Judge Toledo worked very hard, but was also mindful of his family and civic duties. He was a true father and a loving husband who shared his family life with his staff. On November 17, 2000, during the dedication ceremony naming the Old San Juan Courthouse in his honor, a second more intimate act to unveil and dedicate a bronze plaque took place before Judge Toledo's relatives and the judges. The engraving reads: "He led his life with nobility and grace. He served on the Court with dedication and distinction. He was an exemplary human being who stood for the highest ideals of Public Service, November 2000."  The then Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Juan R. Torruella, told the audience during the dedication ceremonies that he had had "...the opportunity to observe Judge Toledo first hand and to judge him in his actions and demeanor while on the bench . . . and that he came to appreciate Judge Toledo's excellent grasp of the law and his keen ability to cut through the irrelevance in which lawyers at times engage. No one could squelch Judge Toledo's patience and innate good humor . . . , conducting proceedings with firmness and dignity but without pomp or self-importance." Judge Torruella's affection for Pepe was greater as a human being. Although Judge Toledo was shrouded by the dark clouds of personal tragedy, in the middle of his sorrow and grief, fortitude, courage and serenity surfaced as traits that were present in abundance in his character. Judge Torruella shared with the audience the wonderful moments spent with Pepe during the basketball games at the Customs House with other colleagues and friends, and the trips on the Cataño ferry to eat fish at Palo Seco. He added that everyone was going to miss Judge Toledo's quiet leadership, his sage advice, the innate feeling for justice, and deep respect for the institution he served.
During these proceedings, Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez told the audience that Judge Toledo was very proud to be a Puerto Rican and that he loved everything about Puerto Rico very deeply: its music, folklore, food and countryside. Judge Toledo was an avid fan of cock fights; on many Saturdays he would rise very early to go to the rings to see the macheos of the cocks before the fights. Judge Pérez went on to say that Judge Toledo's patriotic vein was evident in certain discreet actions he took as a judge of this Court. For example, he stated that Judge Toledo was the first judge to display the Puerto Rican flag side by side with the flag of the United States not only inside the courtrooms, as Judge Cancio had previously ordered, but also in the judges' chambers and the Office of the Clerk.
Judge Toledo was also very much involved in the consideration of legislation to make the United States District Court for Puerto Rico a bilingual court, where the court proceedings could be carried out in Spanish as well as in English. He endorsed all studies that were done and assisted the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the study of the legislation. He was more than willing to implement all the necessary changes that the legislation would entail, especially the use of the Spanish language in criminal trials.
Judge Juan M. Pérez-Giménez viewed Judge Toledo as a revolutionary of sorts when it came to changing the way the federal court was run . . . , as a man of considerable intellectual capacity . . . no doubt a man of prominence. Judge Toledo remains as the most beloved judge ever to sit on this Court.