by April Scheinoha
Football fan Al Rogalla likened his resignation to a football team changing head coaches. His football team, the Pennington County Attorney’s Office, will see a change in leadership as Rogalla steps down as Pennington County attorney on Monday, Jan. 15. Sometimes it’s not bad to change head coaches, Rogalla said.
Rogalla has accepted the position of Clearwater County attorney. “It’s been a privilege for me to represent Pennington County,” he said.
The Pennington County Board will appoint someone to serve the remainder of Rogalla’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2018. Interviews are expected to be held Jan. 18 and 19. At the earliest, the new hire will be appointed at the County Board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 23.
That person will have an opportunity to file for the four-year seat during the November 2018 election. Likewise, Rogalla will have to run for the Clearwater County seat in November. In the event someone else is elected, he expected to continue to practice law in the Bagley area. He also plans to find the time to continue to hunt deer and ice fish.
Rogalla may also act in local theater productions or just attend them like he did here. He said he will miss the Thief River Falls Area Community Theater and Marilyne Sayler’s plays.
The journey to this point
Rogalla had planned to move to Clearwater County on a permanent basis. However, he didn’t plan to move this soon. Fate intervened.
Rogalla said his wife and father talked him into buying his sister Mary Jones’ cabin on Lone Lake in Clearwater County. That was 15 years ago. As time went on, he realized that he couldn’t continue to afford two properties. It was his wife Kelly’s turn to choose where they would live next. Years earlier, he had chosen their farm property five miles east of Erl’s Market in Thief River Falls. Kelly now got to choose. She chose the lake, figuring their three adult children would visit them more often there.
When their next-door neighbors at the lake put their rambler up for sale, the couple jumped at the chance to buy the home. They bought the home and also continue to own the cabin with Rogalla’s parents, Vern and Audrey.
The Rogallas’ Thief River Falls home sold this fall, and they planned to rent an apartment in Thief River Falls for at least one-and-a-half years. They put a security deposit down. Right before they signed the lease, they learned that the position of Clearwater County attorney would be available. Clearwater County Attorney Dave Hanson had been appointed to serve as the Beltrami County attorney. “It was like it was meant to be,” Rogalla said.
Other signs may have involved the three deer his vehicle struck in four weeks around that same period of time.
Rogalla has strong ties to the area. The 1976 Lincoln High School graduate is a former Marine who later earned both his bachelor’s and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of North Dakota. Prior to working here, Rogalla worked for the law firm of Nelson, Kalash, Molenaar in Grand Forks, N.D.
The second time was the charm for Rogalla to work in the Pennington County Attorney’s Office. He and Don Aandal were among the initial candidates for assistant county attorney. Aandal was hired. Not even six months later, Aandal contacted him. Rogalla recalled that Aandal asked him if he wanted to apply for the position. Aandal was leaving to join the Public Defender’s Office. Then-County Attorney Dave Olin soon interviewed Rogalla, who was hired for the position.
Olin and Rogalla initially worked part-time in the County Attorney’s Office and part-time in private practice. However, the county’s criminal caseload increased to the point that something had to change about 20 years ago. The two of them then began working full-time on behalf of the county.
In 2006, Rogalla was elected as county attorney after Olin’s retirement. Assistant County Attorney Kristin Hanson was hired in 2007. A second assistant county attorney, Steve Moeller, was hired in 2013. “I feel comfortable leaving,” said Rogalla. “Steve and Kristin are both good prosecutors.”
Rogalla will miss fellow staffers and the team with which he worked. He has relied on many people over the course of his career with the County Attorney’s Office. Rogalla said he will miss working with the Thief River Falls Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Pennington County Human Services Department.
The nature of the job
It has been rewarding for Rogalla to serve as a county prosecutor. He has been able to help many people. Serving in that capacity has also led to some decisions that may have angered some community members.
“This job is tough that way,” said Rogalla, who noted he took it in stride. He added that he has lost sleep and made mistakes, but he didn’t think he would do anything differently in his career here.
Rogalla explained that the County Attorney’s Office uses logic and reason to determine whether charges are necessary on a case-by-case basis. Victims and criminals usually both want something, he said.
Death cases are the hardest part of the job for him. When Rogalla started here, he didn’t think he would prosecute a murder case. He thought murders only happened in bigger counties.
Over the years, Rogalla has prosecuted several murder cases. He specifically recalled the cases involving the 1998 murder of Chris Scholin and the 2004 murder of Rose Heden. Those cases were memorable for the lives lost, the lives affected and the details of those cases.
Rogalla also recalled the teamwork required to ensure the criminal proceedings went smoothly. He remembered working with Tim Miller on the Scholin case. Miller has since retired from the Thief River Falls Police Department.
As for the Heden case, Rogalla prosecuted the case side-by-side with Bill Klumpp from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Rogalla said Klumpp is the best prosecuting attorney with whom he has ever worked. He learned a lot from Klumpp during that big case.
The County Attorney’s Office is mindful that its decisions impact families, especially in death cases. Referring to vehicular homicide cases, Rogalla said the office thinks through the cases and ensures that it doesn’t miss a fact that may affect charges. He added that the office makes sure to notify the deceased person’s family in the event criminal prosecution isn’t warranted. Rogalla noted sometimes, unfortunately, a death resulted from a situation that was deemed to be an accident.