Call of the wild

Rosanne Balasabas, a law clerk for 9th Judicial District Court Judge Robert G. Olson, was attracted to the position in north-central Montana because of the many outdoor recreation options living here offers.

When Rosanne Balasabas, the 9th Judicial District law clerk, first moved to Choteau, she never intended to stay. She figured she would do what most clerks do: research and write legal answers for a judge, do that for a couple years and then move on and open a private practice. Instead, she found a place to call home and a lifestyle she craved.

Balasabas hails from Manhattan, New York — a far cry from the Montana town of the same name. She attended Hunter College in Manhattan, and began a pre-law track when she discovered she did well in and enjoyed her political science classes. She interned for a judge doing criminal law and then for a law firm in Europe while in college. After graduation, she worked for a large securities litigation firm in New York City.

“While I was there, I was trying to snowboard every weekend, and was going all the way to Vermont from Manhattan. That’s when I realized I needed to make a change,” she said.

Balasabas knew she wanted to go to graduate school, but high rates of tuition and student loans discouraged her. Instead, she opted to take a judicial assistant/deputy clerk job in Telluride, Colorado, for Judge Sharon Shuteran, a woman who had a strong impact on her life.

Shuteran greatly enjoyed her work, skied almost every day and was heavily involved in volunteer work. It was the lifestyle Balasabas dreamed of. Then, at age 58, the seemingly healthy judge underwent cardiac arrest and died.

“I was getting comfortable in that area and working in that role. When Sharon passed away, it made me take another look at my life,” Balasabas explained. “What was I doing there? I knew how I wanted to help people, and the only way to do the type of work I wanted to do was to go to law school. So I finally just committed and did it.”

University of Montana’s law school had all the programs she wanted, with the added bonus of the Snowbowl ski area nearby to accommodate her passion for snowboarding, so it was an easy choice. In May of last year, she had an interview for a clerkship position for Judge Olson in the 9th Judicial District, serving Teton, Glacier, Pondera and Toole counties.

“When I interviewed with Judge Olson in Cut Bank, it wasn’t like I was enamored with that area but I really liked him. Him and I really clicked, and I thought he would be a great mentor, so I told myself I could do anything for a year,” she said.

Balasabas could live anywhere in the district. Someone told her about Teton Pass, and without ever visiting, she decided to live in Choteau. She still only planned to live here for a year, and then move to Whitefish or Bozeman. While she was making plans, fate had other intentions, and she soon found everything she wanted in this quiet little city.

“The great thing about Choteau is there’s no distractions, from work or fun,” she said. “Sure, I have a lot of friends and things to do in Manhattan, but what was I working to spend money on? Cab fare. That’s no life. There’s a great work-life balance here, and it keeps me grounded. I’ve been able to hone in on my values and what’s important to me. I never expected to feel any of these things, but here I am.”

When she’s not snowboarding, Balasabas enjoys backcountry skiing, practicing yoga, attending St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, climbing at Blackleaf Canyon and spending time at Eureka Lake.