Monday, April 14, 2014

Professor Peter Tiersma, Crafter of Jury Instructions, Leaves Legacy of Scholarship

To view remembrances of Peter or post one, please click here.

Professor Peter Tiersma passed away on Sunday, April 13 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Tiersma joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1990. His courses included Remedies, the Language and the Law Seminar, and Trusts & Wills. As director of international programs, he oversaw Loyola’s summer programs abroad. The holder of the Hon. William Matthew Byrne, Jr. Chair, he was a member of the California Judicial Council Advisory Committees on Jury Instructions and a co-founder of the International Language and Law Association.

“A member of our faculty for nearly 25 years, Peter was an internationally renowned scholar, a beloved teacher and played an important role in crafting the jury instructions delivered in every civil and criminal trial in the California state courts,” said Dean Victor Gold. “ The grace and heroism he displayed while battling his illness will remain one of the many reasons he will always inspire us.”

A prolific scholar, Tiersma was most recently the co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (with Lawrence Solan, Oxford University Press, 2012). He was the author of Parchment, Paper, Pixels: Law and the Technologies of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Additionally, Tiersma was the author of the books Legal Language (University of Chicago Press, 1999) and Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice (with Lawrence Solan, University of Chicago Press, 2005), as well as numerous articles and book chapters. His booklet, "Communicating with Juries: How to Draft More Understandable Jury Instructions," was published by the National Center for State Courts and was broadly disseminated to state jury instruction committees. His website,, served as a repository for his commentary on the intersection of those two disciplines.

Tiersma, born in the Netherlands, immigrated with his parents to the United States when he was 5 years old and grew up on a dairy farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Following graduation from Stanford University, he received a doctorate in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego. Subsequently, he obtained a JD from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He clerked for Justice Stanley Mosk of the California Supreme Court for a year and worked in private practice for three years in San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

When not teaching, researching or writing, Tiersma could be found tending his cactus garden, kayaking in the ocean or scouring the Internet for old legal documents. He is survived by his wife, Matthea Cremers, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Update: Donations in Peter's memory may be made to the Santa Barbara Land Trust.

Please leave your memories of Professor Tiersma below in the comments. Please include your relationship with Peter. If a former student, please note your class year.


briancostello said...

This is an incredibly tough loss. I was lucky to get to know Peter in two capacities: as his colleague and as his student. We worked most closely together on promoting the Loyola's study abroad programs, and I would occasionally borrow his voice-over talents for narration work. And I was fortunate enough to get to know another side of Peter as his student in his Trusts & Wills class in fall 2011. He spoke often about his family, and he used a lot of his life experience to help explain concepts in class. He always managed to keep the class laughing and engaged – even making light of how awful he felt some of those evenings – with his trademark deadpan humor. He will be sorely missed.
-Brian Costello '12, Assistant Director, LLS Marketing & Communications

Sandy K said...

If we had a Hall of Fame for members of the Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions, Peter would have been a charter member. His work was incredibly valuable in the formation of an entire new set of standard jury instructions. Peter brought a clarity of thought and reason to the Committee that will be sorely missed. Even while sick over the past few years, Peter managed to make it to San Francisco for our meetings and share his thoughtful insights. What a great guy--and what a loss for everyone.
_-Associate Justice Sandy R. Kriegler '75, chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions

Unknown said...

I haven't ever met Peter, but I feel as if I have. Last year I ventured into a new area, exploring just what went wrong in cases such as that of Trayvon Martin. Peter's wise counsel and wonderful scholarship opened up new scholarly doors for me, making me smarter and, hopefully, better. His comments were absolutely essential to get me properly focused on a variety of issues on which I was ignorant.

I feel his loss personally.

Michael G. Heyman,
Professor, The John Marshall Law School (Chicago)

Tjeerd de Graaf said...

I am writing on behalf of the Fryske Akademy (Frisian Academy) in Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, where we all very much regret that Peter Tiersma is no more with us. In 1952 Peter was born in the Frisian village of Toppenhuzen and as a young boy he emigrated with his family to the USA. As a native speaker of Frisian he got his first university education in linguistics and since then he has done a lot for the study and maintenance of this minority language in the Netherlands.
When he came to Europe with a Fulbright Scholarship in 1978 he did linguistic fieldwork in the village of Grou. There he studied particular phonological aspects of his mother tongue, the topic of his thesis. I had the privilege to meet him and to study together some of these problems. Later he wrote the book Frisian Reference Grammar (Fryske Akademy, 1985), which is still the best introduction to the Frisian language in the English speaking world. During his whole academic life he maintained strong ties with his native country and with his colleagues at the Fryske Akademy. In a certain sense his later work on Language and Law can be related to the legal aspects of minority languages.
In Friesland we very much appreciated his broad interdisciplinary vision and his friendly approach to and interest in the work of the Fryske Akademy. His support was also stimulating for the editorial board and the editor of the Frysk-Ingelsk wurdboek (Frisian-English dictionary, 2000) and personally I enjoyed his co-operation and friendship when we published together on phonetic aspects of Frisian. It was a pleasure to meet him and Thea in the Netherlands and to experience their great hospitality during our stay in California.
Peter can be considered as a symbol of all Frisians who emigrated to America for various reasons, which are expressed in one of our Frisian songs, the Lânferhuzerssang: Amearika, do lân fan dream en winsken…do hast my brea en wolfeart jûn (Emigrant’s song: America, you land of dream and wishes… you have given me bread and prosperity). Not only did Peter have a brilliant career in his new country, he also generously shared his wisdom and friendship with his old country. We are grateful for this and shall keep him in our memory.

Tjeerd/Tseard de Graaf

Jimmy Bayan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy Bayan said...

Peter was a kind and gentle man. We were neighbors in Los Angeles. We would often meet at the pool and chat about life. When he became sick, I saw him and he told me that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Knowing its an aggressive cancer, I was scared. But I knew that he would had beaten cancer before. He was such an optimist in face of the diagnosis I felt that if anyone could be this, Peter can. We stayed in touch throughout the treatment--I championed him and prayed that he would get through it. When I sent him an email today, I was deeply sadened to get the auto-response that he had passed. Although he is gone, his spirit lives on and all the people he touched along the way can not be erased. He will always be remembered. May I meet you on the other side and you'll be waiting at the hot tub so that we can pick up the conversation where we left off about life, law and whatever you want to talk about, my friend. Peace till we meet again-

Jimmy Bayan
Los Angeles, CA

Unknown said...

I met Peter and his lovely wife Thea many years ago in the summer of 1999 after being introduced by a mutual friend Tim McFadden. I was a fearless your Irish lad fresh our of law school in England over in California to get my own taste of LA Law at Heller Erhman. Peter and Thea hosted me in their home on the way to SF, Peter showed me the local sites on his kayak, and I even got to join in the 4th July celebrations in the town square, experiences that live with me to this day. Peter was a fighter and a glass half full type of guy. I am very saddened to hear of his passing, but know that he did good whilst he was with us.


Philip A Grimason
Tullylish, Co Down, Northern Ireland