Aspirations for the country life are what brought Graham Quisenberry to Parker County from his urban existence in Fort Worth 21 years ago. But unlike many former urban dwellers, Quisenberry knew exactly what he was getting into when he bought a three-acre tract of land in a rural area.
“I rode horses since the time I could walk. I didn’t move out here and get my stable of horses,” Quisenberry says. “I just wanted the rural life and left it at that. I know how much time a horse takes.”
That’s because Quisenberry grew up in a farming and ranching family in Seymour and even worked as a ranch foreman between college and law school.
Quisenberry went to Texas A&M for a biology degree, thinking he’d eventually become a doctor. But he changed his mind and, with the encouragement of some family friends, eventually headed to St. Mary’s University School of Law after he earned his undergraduate degree in 1977. Quisenberry received his law degree in 1981 and made his way to Fort Worth, where he started his own general litigation firm, Quisenberry & Spurlock.
He moved to the country in 1988. He later decided to run for an open county court-at-law bench in Parker County in 1994 and won.
“I felt a little need for career modification, and the timing was right for the open bench. And last, but not least, it allowed me to block out my time a little better and spend more time with my son, who at the time was in elementary school.”
Quisenberry also got involved in community projects while on the county court-at-law bench, namely the restoration of the spectacular Parker County Courthouse, which was completed in 2004. He chaired a committee that facilitated the restoration of the 1886 limestone structure. But for all his efforts, Quisenberry has never worked in the restored courthouse as a judge.
“I worked myself out of the building” where the county-court of law courtroom is located, says Quisenberry. He was appointed to the 415th District Court bench by Gov. Rick Perry before the building was rededicated in 2005.
“It was an interesting time. The county bought another building, and the district courts ended up in an old post office about a block and half away.” [See "Sequestrations and Subterranean Speakeasies" Texas Lawyer, June 20, 2005, page 6.]
While Quisenberry doesn’t spend as much time on a horse as he used to, he does spend many hours on another kind of beast.
“I like to be doing something all of the time. I’m not one to sit idle. My current vice is riding motorcycles,” says Quisenberry.
His main ride is a 2006 Triumph America motorcycle, which currently has 25,000 miles on it. (For motorcycle novices, that is an enormous amount of miles for a two-wheeled vehicle.)
“I just returned from a trip to Key West [Florida] on my bike,” Quisenberry says.
Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council, who’d love to ride to The Keys but fears his 1973 Vespa would blow up before he got to the Louisiana border, e-mailed Quisenberry some questions to ponder. Here are his answers, edited for length and style.
Judge Graham Quisenberry
415th District Court
Appointed to the Bench: 2004
Texas Lawyer: What is the best way a lawyer can impress you?
Judge Graham Quisenberry: Good case preparation, observance of formal decorum, staunch yet professional advocacy for the client, and listening to my questions and candidly answering only the question asked.
TL: What is the easiest way for a lawyer to make you mad?
Quisenberry: Not observing the foregoing and, at the risk of appearing simplistic, disrespect for the judicial branch of government through moral transgressions.
TL: What type of case is of the most interest to you?
Quisenberry: Any well-prepared civil or criminal case between or among good lawyers having substantive issues of fact and/or law.
TL: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?
Quisenberry: More than one, I suppose. First, what I perceive to be essentially unchallenged infringement by the legislative branch into matters that should be exclusively that of the judicial branch. Second, underfunding of the judicial branch of government, when relatively little additional funding is needed. Third, inadequate facilities.
TL: If a lawyer wants to get a pretrial motion ruling quickly in your court, what is the best way to get that done?
Quisenberry: Just call or e-mail the office for a setting with an assurance to the court that full communication on the matter with all adversaries has occurred. We make every effort to schedule a hearing date appropriate to the urgency of the matter. Telephone hearings are permitted.
TL: Do you have any courtroom formalities that you are particularly strict about?
Quisenberry: Attire. Dress properly for court whether a lawyer or a party. I believe that coming to court is an important occasion for the parties and the system.
TL: What is the biggest difference between courts in Parker County and courts in neighboring Tarrant County?
Quisenberry: The demographics of the parties would be one thing, as well as the total size of the operations. Even with the growth of Parker County, there remains a better opportunity to know and interact with the lawyers in the local system, although Tarrant County seems to have retained much of its small town flavor.
TL: What judge do you most admire and why?
Quisenberry: Honestly, I cannot identify a single individual. When reflecting upon how I should conduct myself in the performance of my judicial duties, I find myself considering the approaches of those in the judiciary, particularly in Tarrant County, during my formative years in the early and mid ’80s. I think most of those on the bench set fine examples of appropriate judicial conduct through understanding of the law and its even-handed application. Currently, I appreciate the advice and counsel of my local colleagues, active and retired. I enjoy colorful opinion writing.
TL: What’s the next long-distance destination for you and your Triumph motorcycle?
Quisenberry: I am planning a late spring or early summer trip to the Great Lakes area, which will include tours of the Harley Davidson, Walter Chrysler and Henry Ford museums.
“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.