Behind closed doors: 20 years supporting state’s highest court
February 8, 2008
By Geoff Dornan
Appeal Capitol Bureau
After nearly 20 years as clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court, Janette Bloom’s best stories are the ones she’ll never tell.
As part of her job through the years Bloom sat in the conference room as the justices debated – sometimes heatedly – and decided the outcome of thousands of cases. Bloom says her function behind those closed doors was to “act more like their executive secretary.”
“I make sure everything gets done in their conferences,” she said.
But Justice Bill Maupin said her function occasionally included giving the justices “subtle guidance” when they were about to get themselves into trouble.
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“Her nickname in here is the Colonel,” he said while giving a tour of the less than public parts of the Supreme Court.
Bloom, 53, said being on the inside was one of the best parts of the job: “In public and in private, in chambers, in court and in conference, in sickness and in health.”
She stepped outside that closed environment last month when she retired as clerk. The justices have since named longtime court employee Tracie Lindeman as their new clerk.
Bloom said she deliberately tried to keep her image low key: “They’re the stars. I’m just the supporting cast.”
She said one of the things she learned to do in conference was, even though she’d already had many of those orders written and printed, to wait until the justices voted before going out to get the order.
“They don’t like being predictable,” she said.
Off one side of the conference room is another, smaller room with comfortable couches and chairs. When the doors are closed, it and the conference room are sound proof.
“We call it the cone of silence,” she said. “If you (a justice) are disqualified from a case, you have to go in there.”
That keeps the disqualified justice from any participation in a case that, often, was handled by that justice while on the district court bench.
Bloom said it wasn’t always that way.
“They used to reverse them and fight in front of them.”
She said she also enjoyed the oral arguments, which are held in public. But, she said, sometimes she would cringe when lawyers made tactical mistakes before the court.
“I sometimes wished I could jump up and say stop, don’t go down that road.”
Bloom hasn’t left the building yet. She’s working on the electronic filing system the court will soon roll out, allowing lawyers statewide to file documents from their computers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Eventually, she said, all those documents will be available to the public through the Internet, but that will take a while. Right now, only the formal opinions are online.
She said with growth, the creation of the panel system and automation, the court has changed dramatically during her tenure. The five-member court is now seven, and many cases are heard by panels of three to get through the increased workload. The clerk’s office and central legal staff have grown to about 30 lawyers and 14 clerks.
The panel system, she said, forced a policy change she believes has improved the quality of the court’s work. Now opinions are written but not filed immediately. They are held a few days to allow justices not on that panel to review the opinions and orders.
“That started when we went to panels because you don’t want your panels to issue conflicting decisions,” she said.
The side effect, she says, is more time to think a decision through and catch errors or omissions.
Bloom has the distinction of being the first clerk of the court who is a lawyer. She graduated from Northeastern College in Boston.
She wasn’t always a lawyer. While attending school, she said, she worked construction – both for a concrete company and on remodeling and refurbishing houses. She said that’s one reason she enjoyed representing construction companies when in private practice.
She also worked as a mechanic.
“I still have my project car, a Karman Ghia convertible,” she said. “It hasn’t run for a while. I’ve been too busy to work on my car projects.”
She’ll have some time once she leaves the Supreme Court in a couple of months. This summer, she said, she wants to do some volunteer legal work.
First, though, she said she wants some refresher courses.
“I’ve not been inside a trial court for 21 years. I’m not sure I’d want to be my client.”
She said she’ll need to get another job.
“I’m going to go do something else. I don’t know what a retired person does.”
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.