From the value of the land of the Minnesota Twins stadium to disputes in lawsuits over Catholic clergy abuse, Robert Schumacher had a hand in determining the legal and civic fabric of Minnesota during a five-decade career as a judge and mediator.
Known for his strong work ethic, humility and commitment to fairness, Schumacher left his imprint on many of the state’s most significant legal cases, first as a municipal judge, then as chief judge in Hennepin County District Court and as a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
After retiring from the bench, he continued to work as a mediator and arbitrator, overseeing cases in which millions of dollars were at stake.
Schumacher died from cancer April 14 at his home. He was 80.
“Bob was a judge’s judge,” said James Gilbert, a former associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court who hired Schumacher as a mediator after Schumacher’s retirement from the bench. “He was a good listener, he respected both parties’ rights to make arguments and present evidence, and then he knew how to make tough decisions after considering all the facts and the law.”
Schumacher was born Jan. 21, 1936, in Minneapolis and was a graduate of Cretin High School in St. Paul. He graduated from the College of St. Thomas in 1957, and he passed the Minnesota bar exam in 1962 after graduating from William Mitchell Law School.
He practiced law with his brother in Minneapolis, where his clients included the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association. Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed Schumacher as a Hennepin County judge in 1974. He later became chief judge.
“He grew up an average guy, so he could understand what it meant for some people who got in trouble,” said Warren Spannaus, a former Minnesota attorney general and longtime friend. “He was a good judge of character.”
In one of his most widely watched cases as a Hennepin County judge, Schumacher ordered the settlements sealed in wrongful-death cases stemming from the Galaxy Airlines crash, saying privacy interests of the litigants outweighed the public interest of the then-Minneapolis Star and Tribune, which had sought access to the files. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed Schumacher’s ruling.
His judicial temperament extended to the home, where family dinners could often be a test.
“It’s hard to get away with a lie in the evening when your father has had people lying to him all day,” said a son, John. His father once used an episode of “Antiques Roadshow” for a teaching moment when a participant discovered that a vase she had bought for $10 was worth $50,000.
“He said, ‘Under the rule of law, that’s the buyer’s windfall. But in your life, look to a higher moral code. What about the person who sold that?’ That’s something I always remember,” John said.
In 1986, Schumacher was appointed to be one of the first judges on the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where he served until his retirement in 2006. His dissents were often as significant as the majority opinion.
In a 1995 case, the Appeals Court ruled that Minneapolis could not offer health care benefits to the partners of its gay employees. It said that state law at the time did not recognize same-sex partners as dependents or spouses and that the Minneapolis City Council acted beyond its authority. In a dissenting opinion, Schumacher said the question of who received domestic benefits should be left to cities.
He joined the Gilbert Mediation Center after reaching the mandatory retirement age for judges.
In 2007, he was part of a three-person panel that determined the parcel of land being considered for a new Twins ballpark was worth a total of $23 million, significantly more than the $13.75 million Hennepin County had offered to pay the owners of the property — and significantly less than the price the owners had sought.
In 2014, he was selected to serve as special master in a battle over the release of internal church documents on Catholic priests accused of child sexual abuse.
Survivors include his ex-wife, Denise; two sons, John and Tom; a brother, James; a sister, Irene McConville, and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by daughter Anne Marie. Services have been held.