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Roger Pascal, Schiff Hardin litigator, improved Illinois’ treatment of mentally ill, foster kids

Lawyer Roger Pascal participated in some of the most groundbreaking public-interest court cases in Illinois history.

His pro-bono work on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union improved the lives of people with mental illness and children in foster care. He also pushed to decentralize high-rise public housing in Chicago’s African-American neighborhoods by shifting to scattered-site housing in more mixed communities.

Those cases have entered the legal canon with shorthand references that even non-lawyers might recognize: “Gautreaux,” the CHA   lawsuit; “K.L. v. Edgar,” which challenged conditions in state psychiatric hospitals and their treatment of patients; and the still-active “B.H.” litigation, which helped reduce the number of Illinois children in foster care — from about 50,000 in 1980 to about 14,000 now — partly through improved DCFS focus on family reunification and adoption.

Mr. Pascal did his pro-bono ACLU activities while holding down a 50-year day job at Schiff Hardin, where he chaired the law firm’s litigation practice. A pilot, he also donated time to the group LifeLine Pilots, flying needy patients to Mayo Clinic and other treatment destinations. He liked to scuba dive and bake his own oatmeal rye bread.

“I don’t think the guy could have ever slept,” said Edwin C. Yohnka, a spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.

Mr. Pascal, 74, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday at his Evanston home.

He grew up in West Rogers Park, the son of a restaurant-supply company owner. “They had a soda fountain in the basement, and the kids used to like to come over,” said his daughter, Diane Pascal.

After a family move to the northern suburbs, young Roger attended Highland Park High School. He loved jazz, especially from Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker. He learned to play clarinet and saxophone. His band, the Rip Chords, performed at bar mitzvahs.

He met his wife, Martha “Missy” Pascal, when they both worked at the student newspaper of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

By the time he was in his first year of law school at Harvard University, he was already a husband and a father, he said in a 2007 profile in “Chicago Lawyer.” That led to practical considerations, he said: “I couldn’t afford getting a law degree, just to say I had a law degree. . . I always had to work for a living.” Besides Diane, the Pascals had two more children, Deborah and David.

At Schiff Hardin, he helped Jay’s Potato Chips get Frito-Lay to stop claiming that Lay’s chips tasted better. Jay’s said the taste test was flawed. And, in a case that pitted Pepsi-Cola against Snapple, Mr. Pascal helped establish a legal doctrine known as “inevitable disclosure.” Schiff Hardin lawyers argued that the insider knowledge held by a departing Pepsi executive would influence decisions he made in his new job at Snapple, potentially harming Pepsi.

In 1985, when he became legal counsel to the ACLU, the organization had about five lawyers. “Now, it’s over 20,” Yohnka said. “A lot of it was because of his prodding.”

“He also led his [law] firm in that way,” said Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois. “He just really, truly inspired generations of lawyers.”

A couple of times a week, he dropped in at a Schiff Hardin clinic on Howard Street, listening to people who needed help with child-custody cases or landlord-tenant disputes. “Roger gave as much attention and passion representing an indigent legal-aid client as he did to Pepsi-Cola or one of the Fortune 500 clients he represented,” said his law partner, Thomas B. Quinn.

“This was a man who really lived a good life,” Quinn said.

To help juveniles in the court system, Mr. Pascal helped found the Moran Justice Center in Evanston.

The Pascals enjoyed trips to Pine Cay in the Turks and Caicos islands, with Mr. Pascal piloting them in a single-engine plane he co-owned. He brought a litigator’s aggression to motoring a car, so “the joke in our family was we’d rather fly with him than drive,” Diane Pascal said.

When they were young, he regaled his children with stories he made up about “Georgie the Garrulous Grouper” and his adventures in the Caribbean waters where he and his wife loved to scuba dive.

Though he was often home for dinner, there were times vacations had to be canceled because of work. “I think he would have liked to travel more,” his daughter said.

He adored and was manipulated by his 7-lb poodle Chouchou, who rolled over for belly rubs when she saw him.

Mr. Pascal is also survived by two brothers, Charles and Ross, and three grandchildren. A memorial is planned at 11 a.m. Jan. 11 at the University Club of Chicago, 76 E. Monroe.