Retired Judge Maus shares his story: Maus retires after four decades of serving on both sides of bench

Earl Maus, who retired earlier this year as Minnesota’s 9th Judicial District honorable judge, smiles as he shares a story about his career during an interview at Coco Moon Coffee Bar and Gift in Brainerd. Maus served 11 years on the bench, chambered in Brainerd and close to 30 years on the other side of the bench as a prosecutor, mainly in Cass County. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch

He knows government. He knows the law. He knows people.

He is Minnesota’s 9th Judicial District Judge Earl E. Maus, who retired earlier this year after spending 11 years on the bench and close to 30 years as a prosecutor.

Maus worked his last case in early February and has since reflected back on a career he feels blessed to have had. Maus sat down with the Dispatch at Coco Moon in Brainerd to share some career highlights and what he plans to do in his next journey of life.

Most of the life Maus has lived has been mainly in a courtroom setting. Before starting his legal career, Maus grew up on the north side of St. Cloud, graduating from Cathedral High School in 1972. He then earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Cloud State University. Before earning a law degree, Maus worked as a corrections counselor at the Minnesota Department of Corrections in St. Cloud from 1977-80.

Working in the prison, Maus got to see part of how the judicial system works.


“I’m not sure what draws you to that career, but it did,” said Maus, who then earned his Juris Doctor degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul in 1982. That same year, Maus got a job and served as a law clerk for Ramsey County. A year later, he worked as an assistant Beltrami County attorney, before getting the position with the Cass County Attorney’s Office, where he spent a majority of his law career. He became the assistant attorney in 1984 for then-Cass County Attorney Mike Milligan.

“The job up there interested me because of the prosecution duties,” Maus said. “Mike was a good mentor to me. It was just Mike and I in the office for a long time when I started but it has grown through the years. It was different when it was a two-person shop. In my first two weeks there, he took a vacation as he hadn’t had one for a long time and I had two misdemeanor jury trials ... so I got my feet wet fast.”

When Milligan resigned, the Cass County Board appointed Maus as county attorney and he decided he would run for election. Maus had a couple of opponents when he ran for Cass County attorney.

During the campaign period, Maus will never forget the day when he was walking in the Walker parade with his wife, who was nine months pregnant at the time, pushing their first-born daughter in a stroller. The stroller had a sign “Earl Maus for County Attorney.”

“The baby, Laura started crying so I picked her up and I carried her and my wife pushed the empty stroller down the street and we had a standing ovation the whole way down the parade route. People were standing up and clapping. I still remember it, it was a special day.”

Maus was elected and served as the Cass County attorney from 1986-2008.

“It was an honor and privilege to serve the people of Cass County,” Maus said. “There were so many good people to work with. Every day when I came to work I had no idea what I would be doing, except some of the days I knew there would be trials. I didn’t know what came in overnight in terms of people being picked up or crimes committed or any new issues coming up. So from that standpoint it was fascinating.”

Maus said putting a case together is like piecing a puzzle together. Maus said as an attorney he never knew how many pieces of the puzzle he would receive or if he would get all the pieces for a case, which would make it more difficult.


Maus said becoming a judge was something he thought about a number of times and thought it would be a great way to cap off his legal career. Maus said with his law experience and background, he knew people, how government worked and knew the law, and he knew he was ready to become a judge.

“I wanted to see how that would work,” Maus said of serving as a judge. “I felt it was time for a change.”

Maus left Cass County to become a judge, replacing Judge Fred Casey, who served 15 years. Maus assumed the judgeship established by the 2007 Legislature. Now that Maus has retired, Brainerd attorney Matthew Mallie was appointed July 12 to the bench to replace him.

Maus said being a judge can be very intimidating, as there were some areas of the law he didn’t touch on in his career. Maus said it doesn’t matter who becomes a judge, as anyone coming on the bench would face these similar issues. He said a person can’t plan for every subject that comes up on the bench, as judges are given everything from speeding tickets to homicides to conciliation court cases to divorce and child custody cases.

“A lot of very difficult decisions to be made on the bench,” Maus said.

After 11 years of serving as a judge, Maus said what makes a good judge is having patience.

“You have to have patience,” Maus said. “You need to have a good grasp of the law and you have to make sure, most importantly, to ensure there is fairness in the system to both sides. Everyone is coming in there looking for justice, whether you are a victim of a crime, the defendant or a party in a civil case or a parent seeking custody of the child. You are looking to be treated fairly so you have to guard that process carefully. Sometimes we have to make some awfully tough decisions, so there are a lot of things judges need to do and you have to be prepared for court, it is important.”

Maus said it’s important to make sure justice is served and every case is important -- no matter its severity or significance. Even if it is a minor case, for instance -- a traffic case in which the defendant states they didn’t do anything, but the prosecution states he or she did -- Maus said this case is important to that person. If is wasn’t, they wouldn’t be in court, so it is important when looking at the overall whole court process, he said.


Comparing the minor with the more severe cases, such as homicides or parental custody rights cases is like comparing apples to oranges -- you can’t, Maus said. Making the decision over a homicide case or taking parental rights away from someone is always tough.

The easier part of being a judge, he said, is getting together with fellow judges, and sharing “war stories” and knowledge on cases.

Maus is appreciative of the people who serve as jurors. He said there is always a good selection of people from different backgrounds who serve as jurors and make an informed decision as a collective group.

“This system works exceptionally well and I have always respected the time and patience they have, as they don’t get paid a lot,” Maus said. “It is a financial hardship for many, but they have an important job when selected as a juror.”

When Maus was on the bench, he would always offer the defendant advice and offer life lessons to help them move on with their life so they didn’t wind back into the court system.

“It’s always important to remember, good people commit crimes,” Maus said. “They are not always proud of it and they sometimes do it without thinking, and sometimes they commit a crime because they are under the influence of some chemicals. ... When they stand before me and are sobered up, they wouldn’t even think about doing what they did and it is unfortunate.

“There is always some punishment and with that hopefully comes a glimmer of hope (for the defendants). I hope it was a learning experience for them and that they won’t have to go through it again. I oftentimes told people who are going to prison -- I would wish them well and would tell them that I hope they took advantage of the services they were offered so they will never be back here again. It’s hard to do that but it has to be done. The laws are there to be enforced and we took an oath to enforce the law.”

Helping people is one reason why Maus volunteered his time 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.


The program helps participants restore their lives through recovery, reunifying them with the community and reuniting them with their families. Program participants experience rigorous treatment, intensive supervision, random and regular drug/alcohol testing and have regular court appearances.

Maus said there was no better feeling than on graduation day, when an individual worked hard to beat their addiction and succeeded.

“It’s tough,” Maus said, to overcome an addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol. “It is easy to talk about it and (addicts) come in with the best intentions, but to follow through they have to want it and really work at it and hats off to all those folks who are successful.

“The success rate is higher in drug court than it is in probation.”

Maus said there are a lot of resources that go into drug court, many volunteers. On average a person is in drug court for two years.

Outside of drug court, Maus was involved in several organizations. Through his career he 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.


Maus resides in Baxter with his wife, Jean. They have two adult daughters, Laura and Julia, and this year welcomed their first grandchild to the family.

Family is what helps Maus decompress after a tough day at work. Every night, he walks his dog, a spaniel and poodle mix, to help clear his mind. He also enjoys watching the birds and going fishing -- all things he has more time for now.

Now being retired -- what does Maus hope people will remember him by?

“I hope people feel like they were treated fairly,” Maus said. “There are a lot of cases where one party may feel like they were not just because of the nature of it. ... I would hope they felt they were treated fairly even if they didn’t like the results.”

What others had to say about Maus

Senior Judge David Harrington of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, who was appointed to serve statewide as a senior judge through June 30, said Maus was the Cass County attorney when he started practicing law in 1992 in Walker.

“He argued some big cases,” Harrington said of Maus. “He did a wonderful job understanding the community, getting the community to respect him and the court process.

“Earl wasn’t in it for Earl. Earl understood people. He was all about doing the right thing. He never pushed people aside.”

Harrington said Maus had a vision to help every person he encountered in the court process, and finding how why there were there and how he could help them.


“He wasn’t there just to show his wins and losses,” Harrington said.

Crow Wing County Court Administrator Paula Lang said she has many positive things she could say about Maus.

“He is certainly a wonderful man but ultimately when I think of the legacy he leaves us here I would say that he worked with the highest integrity, kindness and compassion for those he served and for those he worked alongside,” Lang wrote in an email. “We miss having him around and I am so happy that he gets to enjoy choosing his day now.”

Former Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher worked with Maus many years when he was sheriff. Fisher said Maus always left his door open and had time to talk with staff at any time regarding cases.

“The ability to discuss things with him was really important from my perspective of being in law enforcement,” Fisher said. “He always offered good sound direction, had a good personality and he never lost his sense of humor or the ability to laugh at ourselves. … His best quality was his knowledge of the law and he is a good down to earth communicator.

“In addition to working together we are friends and have remained friends.”

Fisher completed his year as sheriff in 2010, and Tom Burch has been in the position ever since.

“It was tough to lose Earl,” Burch said of Maus when he left as the county attorney to become a judge. “He was very approachable. He was very open-minded to listen to strategies, he always had the ability to send them to jail and thank them. He really had a high regard to the victims and their concerns, he was very respectful and this carried over to his judgeship.

“It’s tough to see him go, but I send my congratulations to him for his next journey of life. ... He was around a long time and prosecuted a lot of high profile cases.”

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