He led ef­forts to unify Fresno court­houses, start Shaver Lake mu­seum

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Obituaries - BY CRESENCIO RO­DRIGUEZ-DEL­GADO cdel­[email protected]­nobee.com

Be­fore be­com­ing a judge, James Quaschnick was known in Fresno as one of the first fam­ily law at­tor­neys.

Quaschnick re­marked that the fam­ily law prac­tice was an in­tense and emo­tional one, a likely rea­son why there weren’t many at­tor­neys spe­cial­iz­ing in the field. But those ex­pe­ri­ences were use­ful later on, he’s quoted as say­ing in past Bee sto­ries.

Quaschnick, who was also known as “Jim” or “Q ,” was ap­pointed to the Fresno Su­pe­rior Court bench in 1981 and served 20 years.

His long­time ca­reer as a judge is re­mem­bered by those who knew and worked with him as an in­spi­ra­tion be­cause Quaschnick was ded­i­cated and loyal to the law. He was a leader at the time Fresno County courts uni­fied into one sys­tem in the late 1990s and later served as the court’s pre­sid­ing judge. He was a key fig­ure in Shaver Lake where he lived for many years, help­ing start the mu­seum there.

Quaschnick died on April 5 in Cam­bria, where he and his wife had re­tired. He was 87.

The youngest of eight, Quaschnick was born in Eu­reka, South Dakota, to a fa­ther who was a part­time sher­iff and butcher and a mother who was a house­wife. In the ‘50s, the fam­ily drove west to Galt, in Sacra­mento County, where they lived in a onebed­room home.

Af­ter high school and ju­nior col­lege in Sacra­mento County, Quaschnick did a tour with the U.S. Army in Ger­many then at­tended Fresno State. He stud­ied crim­i­nol­ogy and earned a teach­ing cre­den­tial from Fresno State, which he used to teach jour­nal­ism and his­tory at Dos Pa­los High School. He briefly taught at Fresno City Col­lege.

His le­gal work be­gan when he was hired in the ju­ve­nile sec­tion of the Fresno County Pro­ba­tion De­part­ment. Af­ter putting him­self through Hast­ings Col­lege of Law in San Fran­cisco, he be­came a Fresno County pros­e­cu­tor.


Lawrence O’Neill, U.S. chief dis­trict judge in Fresno, met Quaschnick in the 1980s when he would ap­pear as an at­tor­ney in Quaschnick’s court­room. The two served to­gether for nine years in Su­pe­rior Court be­fore O’Neill moved on to the fed­eral bench.

O’Neill said Quaschnick didn’t like to waste time in the court­room; Quaschnick was a straight shooter but had com­pas­sion, his for­mer col­leagues re­mem­ber.

“He in­sisted that peo­ple al­ways see the pos­i­tive side, no mat­ter how dark it felt. So he gave peo­ple hope and moved them along in life,” O’Neill said.

It was well-known that Quaschnick pro­moted ef­fi­ciency and, above all, mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tions in his court­room in the fifth floor of the court­house. Quaschnick per­haps had a spe­cial ded­i­ca­tion to re­solv­ing is­sues due to his early work in fam­ily law.

“He rec­og­nized how reck­less con­tin­ued con­flict was in any­one’s life. He rec­og­nized that end­ing the con­flict was al­ways pos­i­tive,” said O’Neill. “Get­ting the mat­ter com­pleted, you could move on to some­thing pos­i­tive.”

Quaschnick’s vast knowledge of the law was an as­set for the other judges, said Gary Hoff, now su­per­vis­ing judge of the Fresno Su­pe­rior Court crim­i­nal di­vi­sion. Hoff also tried cases in Quaschnick’s court­room.

“In the court­room he could be firm and de­ci­sive, but he al­ways had a sense of hu­mor to him,” Hoff said.

Quaschnick re­tired from the court in 2001, but then re­turned two more times on tem­po­rary as­sign­ments, of­ten at the re­quest of chief judges. One as­sign­ment was to River­side County, where the task was to help clear a back­log on the court cal­en­dars.

Each time he re­tired, there was a cel­e­bra­tion. The first in­cluded 400 peo­ple packed into TorNino’s; by the third re­tire­ment, a dozen cook­ies were laid out to cel­e­brate, his wife Tina Quaschnick said. She joked that the courts couldn’t get rid of him.

Dur­ing re­tire­ment, Quaschnick presided over

Fresno County Sher­iff Mar­garet Mims’ first three swear­ing-in cer­e­monies.

“It was an honor to have him do so,” Mims said.

Quaschnick was a friend to Mims’ fam­ily. He also served on the board of the Sher­iff’s Foun­da­tion for Public Safety for many years.

Re­tired Fresno Su­pe­rior Court Judge Ed­ward Sark­isian said Quaschnick was well liked for his lead­er­ship.

“He will be re­mem­bered as a le­gal gi­ant in the Fresno County ju­di­cial sys­tem,” Sark­isian said.


Quaschnick loved spend­ing time on his pon­toon boat around Shaver Lake. Tina re­mem­bers the din­ners un­der the night sky and the times Quaschnick came home from court and changed into his fa­vorite out­fit: a flan­nel shirt and torn Levi’s. Tina said he was hap­pi­est work­ing on cars, boats and with chain­saws.

“His hands looked more like an auto me­chanic’s than a judge,” Tina said.

Quaschnick’s first wife, Diane, died of breast can­cer. Tina re­mem­bers meet­ing the judge be­cause they each owned a Volk­swa­gen Kar­mann Ghia. Tina’s car needed main­te­nance and she heard that Quaschnick’s car had been re­cently re­stored. She asked about his me­chanic.

She said that up un­til the last year of his life, Quaschnick still brought her flow­ers.

“He was built of such an amaz­ing char­ac­ter,” Tina Quaschnick said.

The cou­ple re­tired to Cam­bria. They loved the moun­tains, but one win­ter when they got 30 feet of snow in­stead of the usual 10, they were con­vinced to move.

Quaschnick con­tin­ued as an hon­orary board mem­ber of the Cen­tral Sierra His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety that he helped found in the late ‘90s. He was the first chair of the board, and al­ways had plans to make sure a mu­seum was built for the moun­tain com­mu­nity.

With no proper meet­ing place, the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety used to gather in dif­fer­ent parts to dis­cuss the his­tory of their area and go on hikes; the nick­name “mu­seum with­out walls” stuck, said John R. Mount, cur­rent chair of the board.

Quaschnick loved to cook and was fa­mous for his ba­nana pan­cakes, his wife said. He served them to fam­ily or at fundrais­ers for the mu­seum, which was com­pleted in 2007.

Mount refers to Quaschnick as a “key per­son” to the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety and to the Shaver Lake com­mu­nity.

HOWARD WATKINS Photo con­trib­uted

James Quaschnick, ap­pointed to the Fresno Su­pe­rior Court bench in 1981, pre­sides over a court­house event.

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