Posted 1/08/14 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
Since Dennis Johnson, state’s attorney for McKenzie County, resigned in September 2013, McKenzie County has been without a state’s attorney. The increasing caseload has, therefore, been shared by prosecutors from surrounding areas.
As of Jan. 20, 2014, however, that will no longer be necessary. Jacob Rodenbiker, a native of Fargo, N.D., with prosecution experience in both Miami-Dade and Burleigh counties, will start as McKenzie County’s new, and first-ever, full-time state’s attorney.
According to Ron Anderson, McKenzie County commissioner, the county is pleased to have Rodenbiker for both his excellent resume and experience as a prosecutor.
“Our caseload is probably four times as great as it was four or five years ago,” states Anderson. “And the severity of the cases we are seeing has also become much tougher. The preparation for our cases is taking a longer time than it used to.”
Anderson also states that the county is seeing more civil cases, as well as cases involving Social Services and other complex cases. These are cases that deal with issues such as, according to Anderson, separating children from their parents because of drug-related issues or extraditing someone because they have an active warrant in another state.
“We’ve never really had to deal with these cases before,” states Anderson. “So we need someone there full time because we don’t have the experience and we need to make sure we do them right.”
Since Johnson’s resignation, the county hired a lawyer from Williston to fill in until the position was filled.
“We had a couple of applicants, but we were sort of holding out for someone from North Dakota who knew what was going on out here,” states Anderson.
Rodenbiker describes his new position as McKenzie County State’s Attorney as his dream job. Having prosecuted cases in Miami-Dade and Burleigh counties, he has plenty of experience. And though he was building to an eventual position as state’s attorney, the decision to apply for the open position in McKenzie County was not an easy one.
“When I first heard about the job opening, I decided not to apply,” states Rodenbiker. “My wife is a preschool teacher and the school year had just begun. So that would mean a long time with my wife and son living in Bismarck while I lived in Watford City. We also had a newborn and had just purchased a new home.”
It was all of the factors combined that made Rodenbiker and his wife decide not to apply for his dream job.
However, as time went on and the position remained open, Rodenbiker was asked to reconsider his decision.
“I ran into Linda Svihovec, county auditor, and she told me the county had not hired anyone for the job yet and that I should again think about applying,” states Rodenbiker. “This time around, it was a little closer to the end of the year, so I would not have to spend as long of a time a part from my wife and son.”
After talking with his wife about whether the short-term difficulties would outweigh the long-term benefits of possibly becoming McKenzie County’s new state’s attorney, he decided to apply for the position.
Rodenbiker also states that it was the counsel of Father Brian Gross that helped them make the decision to move to Watford City.
Gross had been at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck before taking over the Epiphany Catholic Parish in Watford City.
“Father Brian did the marriage preparation courses for my wife and I and he baptized our son,” states Rodenbiker. “He made us feel confident that we would enjoy living there and made us feel more at ease about the decision.”
Rodenbiker was offered the position of state’s attorney on Dec. 17 and accepted. He is a Fargo native and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, and his graduate degree from the University of Minnesota School of Law.
Immediately after graduating, he took a job as a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where he worked for 1½ years. He returned to North Dakota and became a prosecutor for Burleigh County and an associate at Vogel Law Firm in Bismarck, where he presently works.
Rodenbiker has five years prosecution experience between Miami-Dade and Burleigh counties. He plans to work at the Vogel Law Firm until Jan. 17, and will assume his new position with McKenzie County on Jan. 20.