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In Memory of Judge Terence T. Evans

On Point honors the memory of Judge Evans with tributes from local admirers. At the same time, we are mindful that his graceful, inimitable writings are his greatest legacy, as can quickly be seen from this short sample. Additional tributes will be posted as they come in. This post will be kept at the top of the site this week. Scroll down for new case summaries. Journal-Sentinel obituarySeventh Circuit statement.

Hon. Shirley S. Abrahamson, Chief Justice, Wisconsin Supreme Court:

After graduating law school, Terry Evans served as a law clerk for Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Horace Wilkie during 1967-68. When Horace passed away in 1976 and I was appointed to succeed him, his judicial assistant, law clerks, and the Wilkie family became part of the Wilkie/Abrahamson extended chambers’ family. Marjorie Riley, Horace’s judicial assistant who stayed on with the chambers until her retirement, told stories of Terry’s year as a law clerk and kept me abreast of his doings after the clerkship. He was apparently a memorable law clerk.

I got to know Terry personally when he was a county and circuit court judge for Milwaukee County (1974-80) . In keeping with tradition, I checked Terry’s Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals “appellate record” as a state trial judge. Judge Evans had a very good batting average (or perhaps my reference should be to golfing about which I know little). He had one affirmance/modification in the Supreme Court, in an opinion which I wrote, and one reversal (written by Justice Roland Day). Terry had 18 affirmances in the court of appeals, one affirmance/modification, and 2 reversals.

Terry and I kept in touch when he went to the federal bench. We would meet at various bench, bar, or Milwaukee events and periodically spoke on the phone.

Working with Terry was always a joy. He was organized, didn’t stand on ceremony, got to the point quickly in email, snail mail and phone, and made all things easy—and fun. If there was a story to tell, he’d gladly filled me in; he was a great story teller.

I last worked with Terry in preparing for the memorial service for Judge Myron Gordon of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. We both admired and were very fond of Myron and happily traded Myron Gordon stories before and during the event. As I was preparing my remarks for the Gordon service, I kept thinking how much alike Myron and Terry, these two friends, were. Both were fun, very bright, good writers, and above all committed to a fair, impartial, neutral and non-partisan judiciary—whether on an elected state court bench (as they both were) or on an appointed federal bench (as they both were as well).

Terry left us too soon. He will be missed by his wonderful family and by lawyers, judges and litigants alike. The people of this country have lost a judge committed to equal justice under law.

Shalom, Terry, shalom.

Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien, Asst. A.G.:

March 17th is a big day for someone named “O’Brien.” It was also a big day for Terry Evans.

March 17, 1978. As a Marquette Law Senior, I joined throngs of thirsty fellow students at Jim Hagerty’s on 11th and Wells to celebrate the day. As I waited patiently to be served by the lone frazzled barmaid, a voice hollered out from behind the bar: “O’Brien. What are you having?” Then-Milwaukee Circuit Judge Evans decided he needed to pitch in and start pouring.

March 17, 1980. Newly-appointed Federal District Judge Evans herded his staff (Reggie, Pauline – and his first two law clerks, Judy and me) into his car to join the lunch crowd at Derry’s Pub on Bluemond for corned beef sandwiches and green beer. Those many “dog” cases he inherited from his fellow district judges a few months earlier would have to wait an hour or two.

March 17 was always special for “The Judge” because it fell in the midst of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; his beloved Marquette Warriors would surely be playing somewhere.

No one – NO ONE – enjoyed life more than “The Judge.” Luckily, for those of us privileged to spend time with him, that joie de vivre (borrowed from Judge Easterbrook’s marvelous tribute) was contagious. Monday mornings could not come fast enough that first year in Judge Tehan’s cramped old chambers. But, if he caught me there at 5:30 on Friday, The Judge would suggest that I leave (“O’Brien, go have a beer!”), would remind me about the point of diminishing returns, and might say as we headed out the door together: “Oh, by the way, nice job on that summary judgment memo. It’s going out Monday.”

The Judge’s skill as a jurist was surpassed only by his warmth as a person. The word “mentor” is far down the list of adjectives describing his impact on my life [Others that come to mind: Marquette recruiting analyst, legal writing tutor (“To be a good legal writer,” he’d often say, “write like a journalist, not a lawyer”), comedian, Brewer fan, role model, expert on “greasy spoon” diners, and friend]. What a marvelous feeling it was, years after those halcyon days as one of his first law clerks, to argue cases before him in the Seventh Circuit (the argument he most appreciated was the one where I stopped after only four minutes).

This great man will be toasted by me every March 17th in some Irish pub, perhaps while watching MU advance to the Sweet 16.

Attorney Donald J. Wall, Counsel to the Circuit Executive, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit:

For the last 16 years I had the privilege to work with Terry Evans at the Seventh Circuit. He was one of my connections to Wisconsin — my home state. (Chicago has been home for some 27 years.) When he came to Chicago, he would always find time to chat with me about the Packers and other Wisconsin goings-on. And this past year, there certainly was an abundance of things to talk about. One discussion involved the proper length of time that I should fly a Packer flag outside my home on the South Side of Chicago — amazingly, it had been flying continuously since late December without incident. Terry thought that one week following the Packer’s Super Bowl victory was appropriate — long enough to properly celebrate, but not too long to flaunt victory in hostile territory.

Always one to lend a hand, Terry regularly participated in continuing legal education programs. His tips to lawyers were always informative and usually garnished with humor. On one occasion, while we walked to a presentation, an idea came to mind. Terry called his secretary and asked her to call my cell phone at a certain time so as to interrupt our presentation. There was more. To make certain that everyone attending the presentation would know that the call was planned to make a point, and not fortuitous (which would make the same point), Terry wrote a note explaining what we planned to do. He then put the note in an envelope, sealed it, and gave it to then U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic (who was an attendee) before the presentation began. On cue, my cell phone rang and disrupted our presentation. Terry then had Steve tear open the letter and read it out loud. Who but Terry Evans would go to such lengths to make a point?

I, as we all, will miss him, his thoughtfulness, and his humor.

Hon. William E. Callahan, Jr., Magistrate Judge, E.D. Wis.:

My first memory (and one of my best memories) of Terry Evans occurred about 38 years ago. Terry had recently been appointed to the state court bench. At the time, Terry was serving on the misdemeanor court.

A young lawyer appeared before him and, in a somewhat halting and stumbling manner, got a pretty decent result for his client. A few days later, that same lawyer was sitting in the gallery of another courtroom in the Milwaukee County courthouse. For whatever reason, Terry Evans was visiting the other judge who sat in that courtroom. As Terry left the courtroom, he saw the young lawyer who had appeared before him several days earlier. Terry stopped and whispered encouraging and complimentary words to the young man.

That young man was me.

How typically Terry. Taking a moment to recognize and acknowledge someone whom he undoubtedly knew needed a word of encouragement. Such a simple gesture. Yet, his doing so gave me hope that maybe I could make it in this noble, yet sometimes unforgiving, profession.

In the coming years, Terry and I became friends, golfing buddies, and colleagues on the federal bench. Like all who knew him, I too have many stories about Terry – about his love of family, his wit, his intelligence, his warmth, his humor. But for me, the warmest memory of Terry is my first memory of him – when he gave a young, scared, novice lawyer a pat on the back and, with it, the hope of good things to come.

I will deeply miss him.

Hon. Nancy Joseph, Magistrate Judge, E.D. Wis.:

Like many others, I was the beneficiary of Judge Evans’ kindness, warmth, and wit both on and off the bench. On the occasions that I argued before Judge Evans in the Seventh Circuit, he always appeared to have a twinkle of paternal pride in his eyes at seeing a Milwaukee lawyer in his court. When I was lucky to have him on a panel, his warmth and gentle questioning made the trip to the podium less intimidating for me.

Off the bench, whether it was at Jazz in The Park, the supermarket, or more recently, the garage of the courthouse, Judge Evans always took the time to offer me a kind and encouraging word. For example, I once ran into Judge Evans at Cathedral Park. I was pushing my kid on the swing in the sandbox and had my sandals off. Without missing a beat, Judge Evans offered to talk to my then-boss, Dean Strang, about giving me a raise so that I could afford shoes.

My sincere condolences to his family and all the beneficiaries of his kindness, warmth, and wit.

Hon. Richard Sankovitz, Milwaukee County Circuit Court:

No tribute to Terry Evans would be complete without an allusion to sports, of course.  We reserve a special fondness for athletes who are naturally gifted and graceful, and who love the game.  Think Robin Yount, think Sam Snead, think Magic Johnson.

Judge Evans holds the same place for us in the courtroom.  His innate sense of perspective, his quick thinking and his gift for writing and speaking made him a superb judge for almost forty years.  They made him the judge that everyone wished they could have presiding over every one of their cases.  We will especially miss his wit, his love of the law and his camaraderie with lawyers and judges and all the other characters who visit the courthouse.

As we honor him, let’s dedicate ourselves to living up to the league-leading standards he would set if he could preside for another forty years.

(Judge Sankovitz offered further thoughts on the occasion of Judge Evans’ receipt of the Judge Myron Gordon Lifetime Achievement Award.)

Attorney Franklyn M. Gimbel, Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown:

I was privileged to know Terry Evans the person, the lawyer, the judge, and the close friend. In all of those roles there was a sameness about him. He was always looking to serve interests other than his own . Judge Evans never was swayed  by the economic or social status of litigants whose disputes he was called upon to decide. Terry had a sense of justice which on any day could and did cause him to rule in favor a lesbian mother over a Jehovah’s witness father in a custody dispute or a down  on his luck  criminal offender over the U.S. Department of Justice. The recent death of Terry Evans was not only a devastating loss to his wife Joan, their three children and grandchildren but also to those of us who seek and appreciate finding blind justice in our courts.

Attorney Dean A. Strang, Hurley, Burish & Stanton:

Many have commented on the simple, earthbound, and often whimsical style of Judge Evans’ writing.  I always have found that style just an expression of his personality on the bench or, for that matter, if one bumped into him at Zaffiro’s Pizza.  In oral arguments in the Seventh Circuit, his questions were gentle, direct, and simple.  If he approved of you, he was not too proud or stiff to let you know that from the bench in some small way, merits of your case aside.  There as on the district bench, he almost always wore a bemused, patient expression, with a hint of mischief.  As a 27-year old Assistant U.S. Attorney, I remember leaving his third-floor courtroom in such a purposeful rush during one of my first jury trials that I knocked one of the swinging doors between counsel table and the gallery right off its hinges.  It fell heavily and loudly to the floor.  I was mortified.  When I spun around red-faced to look at the bench, it was clear that Judge Evans was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.  He contained all but a smirk and dismissed me with a mild admonition that perhaps I should relax just a bit.  That evening I felt lucky.

I say that because, pleasant as he was, a smart person would not trifle with Judge Evans.  On another occasion in his courtroom, I was in the gallery waiting for my case to be called.  A jury had just left after convicting a tax protester who had represented himself at trial.  With the jury gone, the defendant was lecturing Judge Evans on the unconstitutionality of the Internal Revenue Code, the lack of jurisdiction of the court, the fringe on the flag, and (it appeared to me) everything else that came to mind.  Judge Evans sat quietly.  He then told the defendant, without raising his voice, that perhaps a week in jail to consider the court’s jurisdiction would be useful, and revoked bail pending sentencing—but set a date a week later to review that decision.  It was clear that he intended to restore the tax protester to bail pending sentencing in a week, unless the gentleman chose his comments poorly again.  When I asked the prosecutor a couple of weeks later, yes, Judge Evans had reinstated bail after a quieter appearance by the defendant.  In truth, I always have been ambivalent about that incident, but I have come over time to view it as better than taking the bait from a quarrelsome misfit and belittling him verbally.  Judge Evans perhaps picked a measured way to remind someone about the simple facts of life in the real world.  And the real world decidedly was where Terry Evans always lived, very happily at that.

In this real world, loyalty to friends mattered deeply to Terry Evans.  He also took great pleasure in seeing younger people succeed, especially if he could give them a bit of help along the way.  Golf, March Madness pools or football pools, and practical jokes all gave him pleasure, too.  He liked the company of lawyers and of almost anyone else, I suspect.  I am sad to see him go.

Attorney William U. (“Chip”) Burke, Federal Defender Services of Wisconsin:

The first time I met and saw Terry Evans, he had just run a blistering half mile as the anchor leg for Milwaukee East’s one mile medley relay team to win the event and set a new state record in the state track meet. He was a champion from the day I met him and always was.

Terry went on to achieve great accomplishments and recognition as a judge for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but his title merely defined what he did for a living, not who he was. He was truly humble, possibly the legacy of his youth. But in Terry’s world, there was room for almost anyone; the only requirement being that, like Terry, you left your titles and bank accounts at the door. No one was ever better than anyone else. He continued to love sports and competition; he conducted a football pool that was open to all, but you had to be ready to take some heat from “The Commissioner” over any pratfall, recent or past that came to mind. No one, from GSA employees to judges, was immune. And through his magic and wit, we all became closer. He really only had one best friend, his sidekick and wife Joan, but there were hundreds of us who considered him our best friend. And he was.

True thoroughbreds are very rare; there are anecdotes about grizzled sportswriters weeping over the news of Secretariat’s death. Terry, too, was a thoroughbred in every way, and there will be tears shed over his passing. But through word and deed he showed us the way; it is our challenge to make ourselves his legacy.

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