CHICAGO – Terence Evans, a federal appeals judge celebrated for injecting humor into his opinions and for eschewing legalese, died after a serious respiratory illness, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said Thursday. He was 71.
In announcing the death, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook referred to several of Evans' notable rulings, including a recent one on a trademark dispute between toilet-paper makers in which Evans drew on his knack for word play.
That ruling, said Easterbrook, "offered irresistible opportunity for irreverence, without being any the less analytic."
Evans died Wednesday night from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and acute respiratory distress syndrome, Easterbrook said in an emailed statement, adding his colleague had only recently been playing golf regularly.
"His sudden decline was a shock to all who knew this athletic, outgoing, and witty man," Easterbrook said. "What his colleagues remember of him ... was his joie de vivre. He was irrepressible, which lifted everyone's spirits."
Evans was born in Milwaukee, served much of his three decades as a federal judge in Wisconsin and continued to live in the state even after he President Bill Clinton nominated Evans to the appeals court in Chicago in 1995. Evans would come to Illinois when the appellate court was in session.
During his career, Evans helped decide cases on everything from fair use of downloaded music to whether a disabled professional golfer could demand use of a golf cart in tournaments (Evans — and the court — ruled he couldn't).
He was best known for his commitment to clarity and his fondness for a twist of phrase.
In the first sentences of his ruling on the trademark dispute between the Georgia-Pacific Company and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, for instance, Evans ruminated about the ubiquity of toilet paper.
"Are there many other things most people use every day but think very little about?" he asked. "We doubt it."
Later, he described how Georgia-Pacific "unrolled" its lawsuit and how the appellate judges must "wipe the slate clean."
Evans had said his use of everyday language was purposeful.
"I have a more pragmatic view of the law, a feeling that the law is in many ways too complicated," he once told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. "We should try to simplify it and make it more understandable."
Shortly after graduating from Marquette University in the 1960s, Evans became an assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County. He was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in 1980, and was its chief judge until he was promoted to the appeals court in Chicago.