Peter Tiersma

Date of Death

April 13, 2014

City of Death


Peter Tiersma, Loyola Law School professor and crafter of jury instructions, passed away April 13, 2014 at his home in Goleta of pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

Tiersma joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1990, where he held the Hon. William Byrne, Jr. Chair. He served as the director of the International Programs at Loyola Law School, and was a member of the jury instruction advisory committees on jury instruction of the California Judicial Council. He authored numerous books and articles, most recently, co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (with Lawrence Solan, 2012).

“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.”
Tiersma was born June 23, 1952 on a dairy farm in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands and emigrated to the United States when he was five years old. English became the third language in the Tiersma family and this early exposure to languages would contribute to his later interest in linguistics. Tiersma grew up in the central valley of California, and attended Sanger High School before studying at Stanford University. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego. He taught linguistics at the U.C. San Diego and Miami University of Ohio before attending Boalt Hall School of Law (U.C. Berkeley), where he was associate editor of the California Law Review. Following graduation, Peter served as law clerk to Justice Stanley Mosk of the California Supreme Court. He held positions at law firms in San Francisco and Santa Barbara before joining the faculty of Loyola.

Tiersma nurtured a life-long interest in this first language, Frisian, and authored The Frisian Reference Grammar (Foris 1985) as well as being active with the Frisian Academy in efforts to preserve the West Frisian language. Much of his scholarship focused on the integration of language and law, and he and was co-founder of the International Language and Law Association. He authored Parchment, Paper, Pixels: Law and the Technologies of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 2010), Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice (with Lawrence Solan, University of Chicago Press, 2005), Legal Language (University of Chicago Press, 1999), as well as numerous articles. 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.

Peter often said that his best decision was to marry his wife Thea. Peter loved life, and they spent many good years together, enjoying time with family and friends.

Peter is survived by his wife, Matthea Cremers, his mother, Arlene Hofman Tiersma and siblings Jude, Brenda, Benjamin and their families.

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In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation can be made to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County (


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