Quinnell was key figure in local history of law

Former Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Edward A. Quinnell, who died Sunday, will be remembered for his long tenure on the bench, but also for his compassion and steady judicial hand.

Quinnell, 80, served for nearly a quarter century before his retirement in December 1998 – the longest tenure of the 17 circuit court judges in Marquette County’s history.

A Marquette native, Quinnell lived in the community all his life except for six years while he was earning his law degree. Elected in 1974, he served four 6-year terms.

Quinnell’s successor, Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka, called Quinnell “one of the giants of the 25th Circuit,” noting that his term as judge spanned an era of tremendous social upheaval, changes in law and unrest at the Marquette Branch Prison – the fallout from which all landed in Quinnell’s court.

During his tenure, Quinnell estimated he heard about 15,000 cases. The majority of the caseload – 55 percent – dealt with domestic issues, such as divorces and child custody cases. And they were among the hardest to adjudicate.

“The disputed child-custody cases are the hardest,” Quinnell said in a 1998 Mining Journal article marking his retirement. “The tendency is to blame the other parent.”

Quinnell said he felt one of his duties was to promote cooperative childrearing between divorcing parents. He didn’t want divorces to degenerate into custody fights.

Quinnell also said he believed the judicial system had leeway for many different courses of action. He wasn’t afraid to use this lattitude, bringing rehabilitation resources – not just prison – into criminal sentencing, for example.

“If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Quinnell said.

Longtime probate court judge Michael Anderegg – who retired last year – said Quinnell was unfailingly courteous and fair in the courtroom. “He was to my mind someone who epitomized judicial temperament,” Anderegg said.

Anderegg said Quinnell listened to both sides before he made a decision. He was kind. No one felt intimidated coming into Quinnell’s courtroom.

“He treated people with respect whether they were lawyers or litigants,” Anderegg said. “It’s a huge loss.”

We agree. With Quinnell’s passing, the county has lost an exemplary judge and a major figure in its legal history.