One Sunday morning in the fall of my third year of law school, Judge Terence Evans called to offer me a clerkship in his chambers for the following year. A judge on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Evans was calling from his office in Milwaukee, but he got interrupted and had to put me on hold. After coming back on the line, he explained that his wife had called to remind him to pick up beer for their cookout that afternoon. Here, plainly, was one federal judge who didn't take himself too seriously.
Judge Evans, who had recently taken senior status, died last night at the age of 71. He had been in good health, playing golf (his passion) just a few weeks ago, but declined rapidly after being diagnosed with a chronic lung disease.
Judge Evans was a story teller, but even more so, a man who inspired stories that others would tell about him with affection. He was a great favorite of clerks and staff attorneys in the 7th Circuit's Chicago offices, always quick with a wry smile, a quip, or an opinion about sports. He was a Milwaukee guy through and through, a widely known and well-liked figure in the city where he had grown up, gone to college and law school (both at Marquette), practiced law, and risen through the state and federal judiciaries. The one all-office lunch we had during my year with him took place at a divey Mexican joint he was fond of for some reason.
He was a private and modest man, not the sort of judge who organized reunions for former clerks and expected Christmas cards and wedding invitations. But he was informal and someone, as Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook remembered him, with a healthy sense of joie de vivre. He dressed well and had an elegant mane of white hair. Once I sent him an email letting him know his barber Katie had called to confirm an appointment. He wrote back: "I call her my 'stylist,' not my 'barber.' I do have some vanity!" He was a huge fan of Larry David and, hoping his appreciation would rub off, would leave selections on my desk from his prized collection of Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs.
Judge Evans loved to lace his opinions with whimsy. In a First Amendment case involving the University of Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek, he offered the reader a "detour" (for a substantial chunk of the opinion) "for a brief look at college nicknames and their embodiment as mascots," and awarded Best College Nickname to the University of California-Santa Cruz. ("Imagine," he wrote, "the fear in the hearts of opponents who travel there to face the imaginatively named 'Banana Slugs.'") In a decision refusing mercy to an attorney who had missed a crucial filing by one day, Evans began the opinion by quoting from Dinah Washington: “What a diff'rence a day makes ... twenty-four little hours.” The 2005 opinion in which he mentioned rapper Ludacris and explained the proper use of the word "ho" became legendary. (Once, though, when I tried to work in some similar witticism at the end of an opinion draft, he told me that the pop culture references made it into the Federal Reports only if he thought them up.)
Judges on the Seventh Circuit mostly fall into two groups: former academics and former district judges. Evans was the latter. His judicial philosophy, to the extent he had one, was pragmatic. He liked to hire clerks with journalism backgrounds because he favored plain writing and clear legal explanations. On the appellate court, he retained the instincts of the district judge he had been for many years. He was inclined to defer to district judges when doing so was reasonable, and he liked to give them little shout-outs in his opinions when he thought they had gotten something right. He could be privately impatient with colleagues (or clerks) whom he thought were getting too deep into the weeds of legal theory. He was universally liked by lawyers who practice regularly at the 7th Circuit, who appreciated his civility toward them.
Evans was a moderate Democrat, no ideologue but conscious and proud of his working-class roots. The last opinion I drafted for him was a rare dissent in a case against a credit card company that imposed fees in a manner that seemed calculated to assure the poor cardholder would never get out of debt. Judge Evans protested the court's dismissal of the plaintiff's claims, which he saw as a victory for a greedy corporation over the little guy. The other two panel judges were Joel Flaum and William Bauer, both of whom Evans loved and admired. So there was no acrimony (there never could have been with Judge Evans, or any of those three), only some good-natured joshing in the hallway after the judges' private conference.