Obituary: Thomas J. Terputac / Thoughtful judge ruled on high-profile W&J case

Jan. 11, 1927 - June 26, 2014

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Thomas J. Terputac rarely ruled from the bench, taking great care in crafting thoughtful opinions and decisions, many that he pecked himself on an old typewriter.

A longtime Common Pleas judge of Washington County, Judge Terputac died Thursday in the emergency room of Washington Hospital. He was 87.

Born in Fayette County, Judge Terputac grew up in the village of Muse in Cecil and served in the Army infantry in World War II after high school. He was stationed in France and Germany during the war, and for his service, received the Army of Occupation Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. He and wife Carol Ptak wed in 1949.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University in 1950, and, three years later, earned a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

He practiced law for 21 years as a trial lawyer, was appointed to the bench in 1978 and elected the next year.

Among the judge’s most high-profile cases was a city of Washington lawsuit against Washington and Jefferson College, challenging the school’‍s tax exemption on its real estate.

Judge Terputac reversed an earlier decision by the county Board of Assessment and ruled that the college was not purely a public charity and had grown into an “enterprise of big business.”

“I thought that he did a very good job in that case, and he was very courageous in making that decision,” recalled Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O’‍Dell Seneca. Judge Terputac’s ruling eventually was overturned.

Colleagues recalled that Judge Terputac, while a true gentleman, also was a stickler for grammar and details, sometimes marking up lawyers’‍ messy petitions in red pen and sending them back until the documents were right.

“I think some people were a little taken aback, but I think it made a lot of us a lot better lawyers,” Judge O‘‍Dell Seneca said.

Retired Common Pleas Judge John Bell, who shared an office space with the judge when the pair practiced law together, watched as his mentor developed an expertise in municipal law, zoning and contracts while both also served as Common Pleas judges. Fittingly, they shared a office and courtroom while serving as senior judges after retirement.

“Unbiased and judicious,” he was “what a judge should be,” Judge Bell said.

In a 2006 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Judge Terputac said he was still haunted by the memory of eight neglected children he ruled should be removed from their parents' home in the 1980s — what he considered his most difficult case.

“I don't know where they are,” he said. “But I hope they're doing well.”

In 1997, at age 70, Judge Terputac retired from the Common Pleas Court, but served another decade as a part-time senior judge, working primarily on civil litigation and protection-from-abuse cases. “I like the extra work,” he told the Post-Gazette in 2006. “I enjoyed the law.”

That year, he was honored with the Pennsylvania Bar Association Plain English Committee’‍s Clarity Award for commitment to promoting the use of clear writing by professionals in the legal field. In 1988, he published “A Handbook of English Usage — A Guide for the Bench and Bar,” described as “a courageous effort to awaken us from our grammatical complacency,” and “a must” that “should be on the desk of every attorney,” by lawyers quoted in the book's foreword.

Judge Terputac is survived by his wife; son, Alan, of Imperial; daughters Leslie Grenfell of Monongahela, Pamela Bogos of Canonsburg and Sally Reilly of Imperial; sister, Barbara Davis, of South Hills; grandchildren, Ryan Bogos, Brittany Samples, Alex Reilly and Jenna Reilly and twin great-grandchildren, Zoey and Carter Bogos.

A prayer service is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Warco-Falvo Funeral Home, Washington, followed by a 10 a.m. Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church, Washington. Burial will follow in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, McMurray.

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944.

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