Rosholt Roundtable Features Alumni Who Parlay Law Degrees in Creative Ways
John A. Rosholt caddied his way up to the University of Idaho. Once he arrived, his grounds-keeping skills and a mean golf swing helped him pay his way.
Now one of the nation’s top water-law experts, Rosholt, 75, was a mere fourth grader in Lewiston, Idaho, when he made up his mind to become an attorney.
It was in the late 1940s, he said. “I had just learned about golf, which in those days predated motorized carts on the course,” Rosholt recalled. “I was 10 or 11 and I caddied for a lawyer named Ray Durham.
“He golfed Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. He’d pay me $1.50 to pull or carry his golf bag for 18 holes — and if he had a good day, he’d give me an extra quarter,” he said with a chuckle.
“He was always so nice to me and he helped me with so much, not only with golf, but also with life,” said Rosholt, one of six children born to a lumberjack and a homemaker.
His mentor’s lifestyle seemed genteel by comparison. And Rosholt decided to follow in Durham’s footsteps.
Learning the Game
Turns out, as he got a little older, Rosholt demonstrated a real knack for golf. Coaches at the University of Idaho in the mid-1950s thought he’d be a great addition to their program. At that time, there were no golf scholarships to speak of.
“The university invited me to come up and said they’d ’get me some work,’” laughed Rosholt.
He was assigned to work at the university’s golf course. “The first week, the pro told me to jump on the tractor and mow the fairways. It took me eight hours with the equipment I had.
“Trouble was, it snowed the next week and that was the end of my job for the semester. I made $12 minus taxes,” Rosholt said.
But he toughed it out, stayed in the ROTC, majored in political science and helped lead his 1959 Vandal golf team to a conference championship.
Bachelor’s degree in hand, he accepted a commission in the U.S. Army. In 1961, he took over as commander of an Air Defense Missile Battery in the San Francisco area, where he served for two years.
Then, he was off to the University of Idaho’s College of Law. It was tough sledding academically, he said. Fortunately, he found his niche when he aced a class on mining and water rights laws.
A New Playing Field
He earned his law degree in 1964 and was admitted to the Idaho State Bar the same year. A “startup lawyer,” he and his fraternity brother, Thomas G. Nelson, were recruited by the state’s premier water law firm, Twin Falls–based Parry, Robertson and Daly — then one of the largest practices in the state with nine attorneys. He made partner just two years later.
Unlike litigators, Rosholt’s role has been to try to keep his clients — primarily establishment-based entities, some of which date back to the turn of- the-century — out of the courtroom.
Some of Rosholt’s proudest moments include his work with clients on legislation and construction efforts to replace U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dams at American Falls and Jackson Lake.
In 2002, he joined a new partnership, Barker, Rosholt & Simpson LLP, with offices in Twin Falls and Boise. Some of his clients had then been with him for nearly 40 years, including: the Twin Falls Canal Co., the North Side Canal Co., and the American Falls Reservoir District.
Additionally, Rosholt has helped guide his clients in successful joint ventures with IdaCorp, leading to the replacement of the Milner Dam and the addition of a power plant. He continues to serve irrigation entities and individual clients in water-related matters involving the Snake River Basin Adjudication, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and federal and state legislative matters.
Going forward, he predicts the number one issue with regard to water law will be cleaning up water and conserving it in the face of global warming and our nation’s growth. He said, “We have to deal with the fact that water, this precious resource, is finite. We have to be good stewards.”
“Nearly 4 million acres of Idaho’s land is annually irrigated. Nearly 33 percent of it is situated within the Magic Valley, and it produces up to 55 percent of the state’s agricultural value each year,” Rosholt said.
Consequently, conflicts, even between his clients, are bound to occur. “Hydroelectric companies like to keep water in the rivers and irrigators like to take it out,” Rosholt said. The challenge is to help them work out a solution.
At the Top of His Game
The parents of three adult children, Rosholt and his wife, Karen ’64, are longtime ambassadors and supporters of their alma mater. Among their gifts is a recent designation of $50,000 to benefit students and programs in their respective colleges, law and education.
In 2001, he and Karen created the John A. Rosholt Roundtable for Visiting Professionals endowment to bring law alumni to the College of Law as guest speakers.
“Every time I add it up, I wonder how would I have survived if I didn’t have an education in law from the university and the people of Idaho? For every $1,000 I put out in those years, the state put out $6,000 or $7,000. I’ve always thought you have to pay back the citizens for advancing you the money to subsidize your public education,” he said in a recent phone interview.
One of the beauties of a University of Idaho law degree is the instant affiliation among alumni. “We have a network,” Rosholt said. “Today, it puts you in touch with about 50 percent of all the lawyers in Idaho.”
Most recently, Rosholt and his law partners moved into a beautiful new office perched atop a bluff overlooking the Snake River. Rosholt said there’s another perk. “I can see two golf courses and a fish farm in the canyon.”
Not one to grandstand, he said he thinks of himself as sort of a walking, water-law archive. “I’m pretty much the historian anymore. If my partners need history, I’m around and fortunately I’ve been able to keep my memory, so I can recall things,” he said, a smile in his voice.
This story originally appeared in Idaho Law 2012