After more than a quarter century as a Sixth Judicial District judge and nearly 40 years working in the Carlton County Courthouse, Judge Robert Macaulay laid down his gavel Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Macaulay, 65, is ready to move on to the next phase of his life, he said in an interview Aug. 25, and spend more time with his family and children who are scattered around the U.S.
“I look forward to spending more time with my mother and other family,” Macaulay said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to a lot of things like early morning swimming, cross-country skiing. I’m going to keep riding my bike — walks with our dog are going to get longer.”
Macaulay already spends a lot of time on his bike. For the last 15 years or so, he said, he’s ridden his bike the six miles between his Cloquet home and the Carlton County Courthouse from early March into November each year.
“It’s about 12 miles round trip, and I tried to do it if I could 150 times a year,” he said. “I did the math and by just commuting back and forth to work, it tended to average about the same every two years as biking from Boston to Los Angeles.”
In fact, as his retirement approached, Macaulay typically wore a polo shirt and shorts beneath his robe instead of the traditional shirt and tie.
Macaulay was first appointed to be a Sixth Judicial District judge in 1995 by former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson after beginning work as a prosecutor in the Carlton County Attorney’s Office.
He was reelected four more times between 1996 and 2020, but decided it was time to retire after 26 years as a judge and nearly 38 years working in the Carlton County Courthouse.
Macaulay was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, but spent his school years in Moose Lake.
“I wouldn’t trade my childhood in Moose Lake for anything,” he said. “I loved it. It just seemed that it was easy in a smaller town and smaller school to do everything. Whether it was Boy Scouts or church or plays — swimming, fishing, all of those things. Many of the friends I had as a kid I still count as my best friends.”
Macaulay said he became interested in a career in law after watching the courtroom dramas that dominated the television airwaves when he was an adolescent.
“When I was in sixth or seventh grade, it seemed there were a lot of shows based on courtrooms and I happened to be drawn to them,” Macaulay said. “I don’t know that I ever thought of doing anything else from that point forward.”
After graduating from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, Macaulay attended law school at the University of Minnesota.
“I always liked living here and there was an opening in the Carlton County Attorney’s Office and I interviewed for it and was offered the position,” he said. “Now over 38 years later, I’m still coming to work in the same building.”
Macaulay said he liked the diverse range of people he worked with as a prosecutor — like police officers, attorneys, school officials, probation officers, social workers and others — but said he preferred being a judge to a prosecutor.
“I think there is no question that being competitive can be a real asset as a trial attorney,” he said. “I’ve always found that I was less competitive with others than I am with myself. I think to that extent, being a judge was a better fit.”
Current Carlton County Lauri Ketola was hired to replace Macaulay in the county attorney's office when he took the judgeship. She remembered Macaulay as a man who was “well-versed in the law,” but was compassionate toward the people in his courtroom.
“He cared about every person that came into his courtroom,” Ketola said. “I think he saw the good in everyone and he was optimistic that people can turn things around.”
Throughout his career, Macaulay said the support of the administrative staff, like court reporter Kevin Hamre and paralegal Linda Prihoda, have been invaluable. In addition, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office have provided strong security for the courthouse over the years.
“They all do such a great job,” Macaulay said. “At the same time they do it with such grace and humor.”
Hamre said he and Macaulay became close friends over their years working together and he will be missed at the courthouse.
“He is a kind, gentle-spirited man who cares about his community,” Hamre said. “We will miss him dearly and hope that his legacy will carry on at the Carlton County Courthouse forever.”