There’s not a lot of turnover in the offices of North Dakota’s highest court.
Only four people have served as Clerk of the Supreme Court since North Dakota became a state in 1889.
But soon, that number will be five. The current clerk, Penny Miller, is days away from retirement.
“I’m accountable to the justices. I’m accountable to my staff. I’m accountable to the public,” she says.
The outgoing clerk of the Supreme Court has long worked to make sure everyone — from justices to folks like you and me — have access to the day-to-day dealings of North Dakota’s judicial branch: processing court records, handling court documents… “And then of course rules,” Miller says. “Rules rules rules. We’re all about rules.”
She’s a sort of stage manager for the grand production that is the Supreme Court. While the five justices hear cases and issue opinions, Penny Miller is just out of sight — helping them hit their marks, and even keeping track of the wardrobe.
“I carry their robes,” she says. “I get all their robes because I want to make sure everything is there. Little bit of Type A personality.”
“She anticipates what I want. I don’t always anticipate what she might like, but she pretty well anticipates what I might like,” says Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle.
VandeWalle, as the longest-serving Chief Justice in state history, has been doing his job almost as long as Penny has been doing hers.
“I mean, I have seniority on the chief as chief!” she laughs. “I was clerk six months before he became chief. We like to tease each other about that.”
“She alerts us when things are not going right,” VandeWalle says. “For instance the other day we had a complaint — and it was a legitimate complaint — about briefs on our website that would violate Marsy’s Law. She’s very alert to that type of thing.”
The longtime clerk has also worked to engage the public, fielding questions and teaching people about the third branch of government. “Because it’s often the most forgotten until somebody needs it,” she says.
And as she reflects the last 31 years, Penny Miller says she’s grateful to have seen the humanity of the high court up-close. “These people who are in this high position and can affect people’s lives the way they do are just regular people, the same as you and I.”
That’s what makes her Someone You Should Know.
A celebration of Penny’s retirement is happening this coming Wednesday at 3:30 at the State Capitol. Anyone is welcome to come and send her off.