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Ketola files for Carlton County attorney

Lauri Ketola

A former prosecutor and nonprofit organizer with a familiar last name has entered the race for Carlton County attorney.

Lauri Ketola on Monday filed for the nonpartisan office, mounting a challenge to incumbent Thom Pertler. She worked as an assistant county attorney in the 1990s, and will now seek to lead the office.

"When I was there I loved the work," Ketola told the News Tribune. "I handled everything from child protection to juvenile (cases) to crimes against children to homicide. I just found it very rewarding to be on the side of justice and wanting to do what was right and good by our community."

Ketola, 49, graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1990 and William Mitchell College of Law in 1993. She started her career at a private firm in Bloomington, Minn., before coming to the Carlton County Attorney's Office in 1995.

She left that role three years later to establish Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Young Life, a local branch of the national Christian ministry that offers services to high schoolers. With the organization firmly established in Carlton County, Ketola said she left in January to pursue other opportunities.

Ketola hasn't practiced criminal law in 20 years, but she has maintained her law degree and continued to do contract work for Duluth law firm McCarthy & Barnes.

Pertler, 53, has served as the Carlton County attorney since 2005 — when, incidentally, he was appointed to fill out the remaining term of Ketola's father-in-law, Marv Ketola, who retired after leading the office for 22 years.

Pertler won election to a four-year term in 2006, and was re-elected in 2010 and 2014, facing little competition along the way. A challenger who filed in 2014, Dennis Genereau, dropped out late due to health concerns but still received 41 percent of the vote.

Pertler has at times been subject to intense criticism. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to drunken driving and last year was the subject of an investigation initiated by the county board, which denied him the 3 percent pay raise given to other elected officials.

But Ketola said she doesn't plan to run a negative campaign aimed at Pertler. If elected, she said she would focus on implementing recommendations from a recent jail study and building strong relationships with local law enforcement agencies.

"I want to go forward in a positive way," she said. "I've had a lot of people ask me to run, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. Integrity is something I want to bring to the office; that's my goal."

If no additional candidates file ahead of Tuesday's deadline, Pertler and Ketola would proceed to the Nov. 6 general election.