Colleagues, friends remember Maus as kind and fair
“The unique thing with Earl was he always was a pretty humble man,” Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said. “... He respected everybody, whether you're here for court, you were in trouble or you were a coworker, he really treated everybody with dignity or respect .. and that carried right through with him being a judge. I think Earl had a unique ability to impose a penalty on somebody and they would thank him when they were done. “Earl remembered where he came from and how he got there and was an all around great person. You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with. He was a great person, a good listener and he always had good advice.”
A man who dedicated most of his life serving the public as an attorney and a judge is being remembered for his kindness and fairness to everyone who crossed his path.
Earl Maus — who served 11 years as a judicial officer for Minnesota’s 9th Judicial District in Crow Wing County and more than 20 years as Cass County attorney in Walker — died Feb. 10 at age 67 at his Minneapolis home. According to his obituary, Maus was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer soon after retiring in February 2019.
“He was told he would not make it to his next birthday. Never one to be counted out, under the care of his wife Jean, he made it to two more,” the obituary stated.
Maus’ sudden death saddened many in the Brainerd and Walker communities who knew him.
“This is just a tough, tough loss, I think for anybody who knew him really well,” Crow Wing County District Court Judge Christopher Strandlie said in a telephone interview. Strandlie was close to Maus, who he met in the late ‘90s and worked with for years in the Cass County Attorney’s Office in Walker. Strandlie said he knew Maus was diagnosed with cancer, but Maus was a private person when it came to medical issues and he never let on how serious it was.
“That’s so true and to him it didn't matter if you were somebody he was trying to put away for life, or somebody who is a friend of yours in court ... he treated everybody fairly and with respect. You know, he never would gloat. His comments always after a trial was done, win or lose, was always that justice had been served and it’s time to move on. He never was one to grandstand or try to promote himself. He was such a modest guy.”
Maus was so modest that when he was interviewed by then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be appointed to the bench, he never shared a big accomplishment he had with his career. Maus argued a case for Cass County regarding tribal jurisdiction in front of the United States Supreme Court and won — a 9-0 decision, Strandlie said.
“He accomplished so much as Cass County Attorney and really paved the way for me when I took over the office,” Strandlie said of Maus. “Transitioning for that role was easy because of the relationships he had established and I was able to continue to foster those relationships. ... He was clearly my mentor.”
Maus encouraged Strandlie to become a judge and he swore Strandlie in as a judicial officer in a Crow Wing County District courtroom. Strandlie said his office at the judicial center was next to Maus’ before he retired, so the two had coffee about every day.
“He was just such a genuine person,” Strandlie said. “It would be very unlikely that I would be a judge today if it weren’t for the mentorship that I got from Earl. ... He was more of a friend than anything.”
Strandlie said the one thing about Maus was his infectious laugh. He said it was impossible not to have a good time with Maus as he wanted everyone to have fun and his laugh would light up a room.
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said Maus was the county attorney when he started working at the sheriff’s office.
“The unique thing with Earl was he always was a pretty humble man,” Burch said. “You’d never guess the position he carried the way he was. He respected everybody, whether you’re here for court, you were in trouble or you were a coworker, he really treated everybody with dignity or respect ... and that carried right through with him being a judge. I think Earl had a unique ability to impose a penalty on somebody and they would thank him when they were done.
“Earl remembered where he came from and how he got there and was an all around great person. You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with. He was a great person, a good listener and he always had good advice.”
On a lighter note, Burch said, “Earl lived to fish, that was his real passion in life. If he wasn’t at work he was in his fish house.”
Former Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher worked with Maus when Maus was an assistant county attorney and county attorney. Maus always provided guidance to Fisher while working for Cass County but, more importantly Fisher said, Maus was a dear friend.
“Earl certainly enjoyed life and he was a wonderful friend,” Fisher said of Maus. “He certainly enjoyed some of the activities available (in Walker) where he hunted and fished for years and he would take advantage of those times to come up to fish with friends.
“He was certainly competitive, but he was just a superb person to share these activities with.”
Fisher and Maus became fathers around the same time and this also created a special bond between the two men.
“I was a better father because of him,” Fisher said.
Fisher said he knew Maus was undergoing treatment for his cancer, but he was very surprised when he heard his friend had died.
Retired Judge Richard Zimmerman, who retired in 2017 in Crow Wing County after 20 years of service, said, “I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy retirement so far and Earl was kind of cheated out of it.
“Over the last few years we talked about all the things we were going to do when we retired and he was excited. It’s just really sad.”
Zimmerman said their judge’s chambers were next to each other the whole time they served in Crow Wing County, up to when he retired. He said they had coffee every morning and became good friends.
Zimmerman described Maus as intelligent and one who had experience with a variety of cases when he became a judge.
“He seemed to be fair to everybody and he was respectful to everyone who appeared in front of him,” Zimmerman said. “He was just a fair, kind person who was really respected by anyone who appeared in front of him.
“He was a good friend. He was kind, down to earth and a humble optimistic guy.”
Zimmerman said what Maus taught him was to not get too excited about things. He said Maus was even tempered and always said people can work through things and solve whatever problems they run into.
“He was so even tempered that when you saw him you wouldn’t even have known if he had any problems because whatever was going on you’d get the same Earl,” Zimmerman said. “He wasn’t one to be down in the dumps or one who was super high. He was just an even keeled, optimistic person. He always thought the best ... and if he was losing he’d say, it’ll go better next time, he was that kind of person.”
Zimmerman talked with Maus after he retired by telephone, but he wasn’t able to see him much in person. Zimmerman, like the others, knew Maus had cancer and was going through treatments, but didn’t really know how sick Maus was.
“He was always so upbeat, even when he was gravely ill,” Zimmerman said. “I talked with him just weeks before he died and I never would have known from talking to him because he maintained that optimism even when he was dying. That’s the way he lived his life.”
Maus also touched U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s heart.
“If you had the pleasure of knowing Earl, you know he had just about the biggest heart in Minnesota,” Klobuchar said in an email responsel. “He represented the very best of our state, working as a champion for fairness and compassion under the law. Every day, Earl lived his values — not only in the courtroom, but also as a father, husband, and community volunteer.
“Before I made the decision to run for Senate, I consulted Earl and in the end I made the final decision in Earl’s fish house at the Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake, a memory I will never forget.
“I send my condolences to Jean, his daughters Laura and Julia, and so many people in the community who loved and respected Earl.”
During his career, Maus served as chair of the Law Enforcement Training Committee and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, where he also served as president, past co-chair of the Appellate Law Committee and chair of the Indian Law Committee.
He also served in an advisory role on the board of directors of the county attorneys association, Northwest Minnesota Juvenile Center and the Family Advocacy Center in Bemidji. Maus also was part of the Minnesota State Bar Association, the National District Attorneys Association, 15th District Bar Association and the Cass County Bar Association. He wrote numerous briefs at the district court level, as well as briefs to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The judge also received the Johnson Distinguished Service Award for service by the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and made numerous appearances in state district court, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Minnesota Supreme Court, U.S. District Court, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
He also helped create and volunteered for drug court. The goal of drug court is to enhance public safety by decreasing criminal recidivism through community-supported, judicially supervised treatment of substance abuse.
JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.