Born to unmarried parents, a bartender father and cocktail waitress mother, Rogan was born in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Rogan's biological father abandoned his mother when he learned of the pregnancy. James was raised by his grandparents, Helen and James Kleupfer. His single mother was a convicted felon, who had worked a variety of unskilled jobs while collecting welfare and food stamps.
Rogan dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to work. Although he never completed high school formally, Rogan attended Chabot Community College — now Las Positas Community College — in Livermore, before earning a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and later his J.D. degree from UCLA Law School, where he was a member of the UCLA Law Review. Rogan helped pay his way through law school by working as a bartender and bouncer at several of Hollywood night clubs. Rogan planned on marrying his longtime girlfriend, Terri Lemke, but the relationship did not survive his move to Los Angeles to attend law school. He married Christine Apffel in 1988; they have twin daughters.
Rogan did a short stint (1983–1985) as a civil litigation attorney in one of Los Angeles’ oldest law firms (Lillick McHose & Charles). He resigned from his firm and signed on as a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, where he later was recruited to the “Hardcore Gang Murder Unit”. He prosecuted some of Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs. In a 1990 statewide poll of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, California Lawyer Magazine named Rogan as one of the state’s most effective prosecutors.
Later that year Governor George Deukmejian appointed the 33-year-old prosecutor to be a judge of the Glendale Municipal Court. Rogan was California's youngest sitting state court judge at the time of his elevation to the bench. During his service on the municipal court (1990-1994) Rogan presided over thousands of civil and criminal cases. In 1993 his colleagues elected him presiding judge of their local court. He began teaching as an adjunct professor of law in 1987; over the next two decades he taught at various law schools in Southern California, and continues teaching to date. He has been an adjunct professor of criminal law, criminal procedure, trial practice and trial advocacy. He has lectured in many other areas of law, including evidence and intellectual property.
In 1994 Rogan ran for and won a special election to the California State Assembly after the previous incumbent, former GOP minority leader Pat Nolan resigned in disgrace. In his freshman term his colleagues elected him Majority Leader. California Journal Magazine named him the Assembly's most effective legislator, and ranked him “number one in integrity” and “number one in effectiveness”. He served on the Assembly's Appropriations, Budget, Public Safety, Natural Resources, and Education Committees.
In 1996, Rogan won the first of two terms to the United States House of Representatives. Elected with just 50.1%, Rogan became one of only two House members to serve on both the House Commerce Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. On the House Judiciary Committee, Rogan and his colleagues were responsible for reviewing all proposed legislation dealing with a variety of complex issues, including all intellectual property issues (copyrights, patents and trademarks); protection of trade and commerce against unlawful restraint of trade and monopolies; the judiciary and all judicial proceedings (civil and criminal); administrative proceedings; immigration issues; bankruptcy law, and all proposed constitutional amendments.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Rogan was a leader in helping to increase the number of H1-B immigration visas that are critical to America’s high-tech community. As a member of the House Commerce Committee, Rogan served on the oldest and most powerful Committee in the House. Further, as a member of the two most critical subcommittees (the Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee, and the Energy and Power subcommittee) Rogan shared responsibility for helping to craft legislation on all matters of interstate and foreign commerce and trade; interstate and foreign telecommunications, regulation of commercial practices (including the Federal Trade Commission); consumer affairs and consumer protection; product liability issues; motor vehicle safety; and all laws relating to national energy policy, including utility issues, and regulation of nuclear facilities.
During his congressional service, Rogan was Assistant Majority Whip for the House Republican Conference, helping mobilize House votes on key legislative objectives, provided legislative information to Members and the House leadership, and helped to coordinate legislative and political strategies within the Congress. He also was a member of both Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Dick Armey's "Kitchen Cabinet" advisory groups. He met regularly with the Speaker and the Majority Leader to discuss political and legislative strategies and tactics during the congressional session. Speaker Gingrich named Rogan as co-chairman of the Speaker’s High Tech Task Force, and named Rogan Speaker Pro Tempore on numerous occasions.
Because of his background as a prosecutor and his reputation for respect among Republicans and Democrats, Rogan was selected to be one of the thirteen House Managers in the impeachment trial of President Clinton. Although Rogan and his predecessor as U.S. Representative for California's 27th District were both Republican, many of the district's constituents opposed the impeachment. In 2000, Democrats made defeating Rogan a high priority in the U.S. House races, and he was defeated by then state senator Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
Shortly after Rogan left Congress, President George W. Bush selected him to be the U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although controlled by a Democratic majority, the U.S. Senate confirmed Rogan unanimously, and he assumed office in December 2001. In this new role, Rogan ran one of the oldest agencies in the federal government, overseeing 8,000 employees and a $1.5 billion budget. He served as chief advisor to the president on all matters of intellectual property and authored the USPTO’s 21st Century Strategic Plan, a reorganization of the 214-year-old agency to modernize and integrate its operations with the leading world intellectual property offices.
Rogan left the Bush Administration in early 2004, and joined the law firm of Venable LLP, where he worked as a partner in their Southern California and Washington, D.C offices. Later, he joined Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, working out of their California and D.C. offices. In 2004 Harper Collins published Rogan's autobiographical memoir, Rough Edges: My Unlikely Road from Welfare to Washington, which Reader's Digest selected Rogan's popular autobiography as one of its top nonfiction books for 2004-05.
In January 2007, President George W. Bush nominated Rogan for a federal judgeship for the United States District Court for the Central District of California. His nomination received broad bipartisan support, including the unanimous approval of Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein judicial nominee review committee, along with the highest rating from the American Bar Association. Despite this, the Democrat-controlled United States Senate Judiciary Committee declined to give Rogan's nomination a hearing because U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer put a hold on the nomination, citing Rogan's role in Clinton's impeachment as the reason. His nomination died at the end of the 109th Congress in January 2009 because the Senate failed to act on it.
In 2011, WND Books published his second memoir, Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment. During the Clinton impeachment saga of the 1990s, as the media force-fed America and the world a steady diet of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress, a wagging presidential finger, and parsing phrases like the meaning of 'is,' Rogan knew if the scandal ever led to impeachment proceedings, future accounts would suffer from faulty memories or faulty motives. To combat the threat of factual or historical error, Rogan kept copious notes during every significant meeting relating to impeachment from his first day on the Committee. He did this so there would be a complete and accurate historical chronicle - - the best evidence - - of what really happened behind the scenes in the unfolding drama.
In 2014, WND Books published his third memoir, "And Then I Met...Stories of Growing Up, Meeting Famous People, and Annoying the Hell Out of Them." This book is a fun collection of humorous, adventurous, and sometimes poignant stories from Rogan's boyhood when he did everything possible, short of breaking the law, to meet and get advice from many famous politicians, sports and entertainment figures he met as a kid growing up in San Francisco. Through Rogan's diaries and photos, you get rare behind-the-scenes glimpses of people like Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Hubert Humphrey, Barry Goldwater, Cary Grant, Willie Mays, and dozens more. Rogan met everyone - from the last surviving witness of the massacre of General Custer to stars of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. The stories and photographs brim over in this delightful compilation. That same year, WND Book published a tenth anniversary edition of Rogan's first book, "Rough Edges," which had been out of print for a decade.
In July 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Rogan to serve as a judge on the Superior Court of California in Orange County; Rogan took office in October 2006, where he still serves. He won election to a full term without opposition in 2008, and again in 2014. For the past several years, he has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at various law schools in Southern California, where he has taught both Criminal Procedure and Trial Practice.