The state’s first new clerk of the Montana Supreme Court in 30 years says he appreciates the nonpartisan nature of the job.
Republican Bowen Greenwood beat Democrat Rex Renk, a staffer at the clerk’s office, and Libertarian Roger Roots in November’s election and was sworn in earlier this month. He replaces veteran clerk Ed Smith, a Democrat who held the position for the last three decades.
“The first thing that needs to be said is that this is a tremendous honor to have this opportunity to serve,” he said. “The people of Montana just hired me to do a job and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to get started.”
As a longtime conservative figure in the state, including as the former executive director of the state Republican party and communications director for the Montana Family Foundation, Greenwood downplayed politics as he settled in to his new role. More recently he worked as public information officer for the Public Service Commission.
“My impression is that this transition right now is a good example of how party politics should work,” he said. “The parties played a role in the election and in choosing which person was hired for the job, but after the election is over, that is put aside and we put our nose to the grindstone.”
Greenwood praised Renk for the tenor of the campaign, which drew a much lower profile than races for U.S. Senate and House as well as some contentious ballot initiatives.
“I think it made for a better campaign because we weren’t at the top level like the Tester-Rosendale race,” he said. “Neither Rex nor I were buying negative attack ads against each other. No one was slinging mud or anything and that made it much more possible to have a civil discussion about the office.”
The lower profile of the race and the clerk job is not something that bothers Greenwood. The clerk’s office works directly with the court, processing cases and releasing opinions, with the clerk sitting in on oral arguments.
“I ran for this job because it really is a public service position,” he said. “You’re not issuing press releases every day like the governor or a senator and nobody is expecting you to make headlines. You just do your work and hopefully when you’re done the people in the state are better for it.”
Greenwood, acknowledging the challenge of learning a new job, says he feels fortunate that much of the staff hired under Smith has agreed to stay on under his administration.
“Job No. 1 is to make sure this office keeps doing the great work they’re doing,” he said. “(The staffers) are skilled, experienced people who are doing a great job, and helping them keep doing that is the first priority.”
As his second priority, Greenwood would like to increase public access to information about the court, and he believes his experience in communications will help the office improve accessibility to their website.
“Within the legal system we do everything with technical terms … but the ordinary Montanan doesn’t work with those terms,” he said. “They might just want to say, ‘What’s the Supreme Court doing in regards to capital punishment? What’s the Supreme Court doing in regards to access to justice?’ I’d like to make our resources searchable for commonly used terms rather than just legal terms.”
He also praised Smith, saying he served with distinction and has brought a wealth of history and helpfulness during the transition. Greenwood says he admires Smith’s dedication to serving “pro se” litigants that do not have a lawyer and need extra assistance navigating the Supreme Court — something he hopes to continue.
“My goal here is to do a job that needs doing and that you’re not going to get a lot of attention for, and to learn,” he said.