The Simple Life

Cowboy-poet Al Marquis has a (mostly true) story to tell

Published in 2007 Mountain States Super Lawyers — July 2007

As a boy in the wilds of western Washington, Al Marquis rode horses, wore cowboy boots and strutted around his parents’ ranch house with a holster and toy gun. More than 30 years into his career as a Las Vegas trial attorney, he has not let go of the simple ease of the rancher life. He still wears a hat and boots. He rides horses. He lives with his wife, Joanie (aka “Tex”), on a ranch in Sandy Valley, a town 50 miles south of Las Vegas that’s as close to a set of a TV western as you’ll find.

Marquis is also a poet. In 2002, he published Frivolous Cowboy Poetry: These Here Stories Are All True (Mostly). Here’s a stanza from “Learnin’ to Drink Whiskey”:

Flames shot out my nose
My mouth, my eyes and ears
I grabbed my throat and gagged
I couldn’t see thru tears.

“I call it frivolous cowboy poetry, because no matter what I do, I can’t help but write things that are frivolous,” he says. “Let’s just say I’m not going to quit my day job.”

As a real estate and employment attorney at Marquis & Aurbach, Marquis, 59, is known for doing what’s right over what’s popular. “If a client retains me, he’s got me, heart and soul, and I will do whatever I possibly can to guard and protect that client’s interests,” he says. “That’s what they deserve.”

Even if protecting those interests means bucking the state’s second most prominent industry behind gaming: the military. In February 1987, at a peace rally outside the gates of the Nevada Test Site, Marquis saw the police handcuffing protesters, including actor/activist Martin Sheen, who had been praying in the desert. “I turned to the police officer and said, ‘What are you arresting them for?’ And he said, ‘You can find out from the judge.’”

It turned out the arrest was due to Sheen’s comments a week earlier on Good Morning America about plans for civil disobedience at the site. Deputies used the peace bond statute, which allows a sheriff to make an arrest if someone threatens to commit an offense, to take Sheen in. A judge ruled each person would pay a $5,000 fine or spend six months in jail.

Marquis appealed all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court, arguing that the peace bond statute was designed to prevent violent crimes, and that the way it was enforced at the site violated the First Amendment. The justices agreed with Marquis. After his arguments before the high court, a single person sitting in the gallery started to clap. It was Sheen.

“One of the judges said, ‘That’s not necessary,’” Marquis says, chuckling.

Marquis also made the papers when he sued Redd Foxx for “verbally raping” a 15-year-old bus girl at a Las Vegas casino in 1981. Foxx allegedly made a pass at the girl, which she rebuffed. Then, in the middle of a crowded restaurant on a Sunday morning, Foxx yelled obscenities at the girl. After a lower court threw out the lawsuit, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed with Marquis. Rather than retrying the case in the lower courts, Foxx settled for $25,000.

“You know, as a young man, I tended to screw around a lot,” he says, laughing. “I was not a very serious student. But when you get into the real world, and you’re talking about justice and the judicial system and lives and people’s rights, that’s an extremely serious subject.”

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