On an annual fishing trip in Canada last summer, former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale made a promise to St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman.
Litman had just filed for a fifth - and what he expects to be final - term in office. Mondale said he’d like to administer the oath come January.
Back home, Litman received some bad news from County Attorney Mark Rubin. Qualifications and reputation aside, it turned out the former vice president, ambassador to Japan, U.S. senator and Minnesota attorney general lacked the legal authority.
“Apparently state statute doesn’t allow it,” Litman said. “It’s amazing that he can swear in a president, judges, justices - but not a sheriff. I’m baffled.”
Undeterred, the 91-year-old Mondale was still on hand to usher in his longtime fishing partner’s new term.
“Ross is the sort of public servant who makes you feel good,” he said during a short ceremony. “The kind of public servant that we need. He is honest, he is generous, he is thoughtful. He’s an effective sheriff. Decency carries the day with Ross.”
Litman, 58, took the oath in the St. Louis County courtroom where his father, the late Jack Litman, was chambered as a State District Court judge. The courtroom, for now, belongs to Judge Mark Munger, who stepped in to formally recite the oath to Litman.
The Mondale, Litman and Munger families have a long-standing, multi-generational bond. Every June, for decades, they have gathered at the Litman family camp north of the border for a fishing vacation.
Mondale - simply “Fritz” to Litman - said he has known the sheriff “since he was a kid.” He joked about Litman’s knack for running unopposed in his re-election bids.
“After this program is over, I’d like to sit down with him and figure out what I did wrong,” Mondale joked.
Litman indicated that he will likely step down after this latest term, which will expire in January 2023. He has worked in the Sheriff’s Office for 26 years, serving as the county’s chief law enforcement officer for the past 16 years.
Litman recalled his first bid in 2002, when he was among a seven-candidate primary field for the open sheriff’s seat. He said he called up Mondale and asked for his endorsement.
“Without hesitation, he said yes,” Litman recalled. “There’s no doubt in my mind your support and your endorsement meant a lot. But more importantly, growing up, through the different jobs and responsibilities you had, I could have no better mentor, teacher or friend to teach me how to serve the public.”