When a young John Torraco told his parents he wanted to play hockey, his father signed him up under one condition: that he never miss a game or practice.
Following his parents’ guidelines, Torraco committed himself to the sport for 12 years, until he was physically forced to quit when he blew out his knee his senior year.
He turned his focus to schoolwork, something he claims never came easy for him. When he told his mother, Pat, he wanted to be an attorney, “I just sort of shook my head,” says Pat Torraco.
Pat Torraco’s first thought when her son told her he planned to run for state attorney was, “Oh no, not this again.” According to her, when her son has a goal in mind, his dedication becomes obsessive and he commits all the way.
The 41-year-old defense attorney is bringing that same commitment and tenacity to his campaign for state attorney against Ed Brodsky, who currently holds the position of chief assistant state attorney in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. Torraco may be considered the underdog in this race, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up a fight.
Torraco’s platform is based on a fiscal analysis of the State Attorney Office’s performance of putting emphasis on the front-end of a case and downplaying the value of a conviction. Torraco said rooting out possible defense strategies, such as citing improper arrest procedures, could stop a case destined for failure from moving through the system and save taxpayers money.
Through campaign advertisements, Brodsky has criticized Torraco’s lack of overall law experience — particularly that he’s never prosecuted a case.
Instead, Torraco has spent his career on the defense side of criminal court cases.
Torraco got his feet wet in the courtroom prior to graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 2001. According to Torraco, his first case was against U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder.
“He really gave me a beating. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and learned a lot,” says Torraco.
In 2004, with a strong knowledge of constitutional law, Torraco felt comfortable enough to go up against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
He saw a chance to use his legal degree to stop unlawful arrests of gun owners.
“I decided to take a stand,” Torraco says.
Torraco concealed legally a firearm in checked luggage, and, according to Federal Aviation Administration requirements, notified a LaGuardia Airport Delta Airlines employee of the gun. The employee was required to call the Port Authority. When officers arrived, they arrested Torraco.
The criminal charges were dropped, but Torraco lost a civil lawsuit in which he claimed the Port Authority had used unconstitutional enforcement in his arrest. He hoped the lawsuit would set a precedent. He worried that authorities would continue to arrest a traveler within his rights to carry a firearm.
“They were shooting fish in a barrel,” he says.
“John is very, very good at suggesting why a search is improper,” said Chris Cosden, a Fort Myers defense attorney who has consulted with Torraco on Fourth Amendment violation cases.
As a constitutional law professor at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota for 14 years, Torraco takes the lessons he’s learned in courtrooms to the collegiate classroom, in which he uses the Socratic method to teach his students.
Fittingly, he is also a Renaissance man who takes on a multitude of do-it-yourself projects instead of waiting for a professional to complete the work. In typical Torraco fashion, last Christmas he and his brother cleared raccoons out of their parents’ attic instead of waiting for the pest-control truck to arrive.
Torraco continues to personally install his campaign signs around Sarasota, even though he has staff who could do it for him.
In another instance, he used a sledgehammer to bang a dent out of his maroon truck’s tailgate after a tree fell on it.
Although the odometer in Torraco’s truck, which is featured in his campaign commercials, may roll past 350,000 miles before November, he won’t be buying a new vehicle any time soon. Just as he has shown determination in sports and the courtroom, he’s focused on the task — winning the Nov. 6 election for state attorney.
JOHN TORRACO, Democrat
BIRTHPLACE: Westwood, N.J.
FAMILY: I am grateful that I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic, morality and fiscal responsibility — they also taught me that there is no higher calling than serving the public good. My mother has been a nurse and hospital chaplain for more than 50 years, while my father has been a certified public accountant for more than 50 years. I have three siblings. Not married, no children.
EDUCATION: Bachelor of arts in psychology with a minor in accounting; law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
PROFESSIONAL CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Serving a president of the United States, the United States Department of Justice, two United States judges and being selected to a program with United States Supreme Court Justice Kennedy
FUN FACT: I drive a pickup truck with 347,000 miles on it.