Longtime Professor Peter Tiersma, who shaped Calif. jury instructions, leaves legacy of scholarship

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, was published by the National Center for State Courts and was broadly disseminated to state jury instruction committees. His website, www.languageandlaw.org, 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.