He led efforts to unify Fresno courthouses, start Shaver Lake museum
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.
AN INSPIRATION TO OTHERS
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.
LIFE IN SHAVER LAKE
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.
James Quaschnick, appointed to the Fresno Superior Court bench in 1981, presides over a courthouse event.