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Influential Lawyer: Jay Barnes

jay-barnesJay Barnes

Former State Representative, Jefferson City

On New Year’s Eve, the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight led by Rep. Jay Barnes released almost 2,000 pages of transcripts, documents and other items involving the various scandals of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

The report drew no new conclusions, and many of the documents within it previously had been released in one form or another. Barnes, for whom the report represented practically his last official act as a state representative, said the report was needed to close out the investigation.

“We also wanted, for historical purposes, to put all the information out there in one official document,” Barnes said. “Hopefully nothing like this ever happens again in Missouri history.” But, he added, “If anything similar happens five, 10, 15, 20, 50 years from now, future legislators will look to see how this was handled.”

Throughout the fraught Greitens investigation, Barnes, a lawyer in Jefferson City, sought to adhere to that same blend of respect for the rules and concern for posterity. The committee first began its work after the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office indicted Greitens for felony invasion-of-privacy, based on allegations that in 2015 Greitens had taken a nonconsensual photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair while she was blindfolded and undressed.

The committee’s investigation later expanded to include campaign-finance-related allegations as well, after Greitens faced a separate charge of felony computer-data tampering for allegedly having had his gubernatorial campaign improperly obtain a donor list from a veterans’ charity Greitens had founded.

The committee’s work might have resulted in Greitens’ impeachment had the governor not resigned. Although the criminal charge related to the affair ultimately was dismissed, the data-tampering case was proceeding when Greitens announced he would leave office on June 1.

Nothing about the investigation was comfortable — not the allegations, which ranged from intimate sexual details to the secret ways money enters political campaigns. Not the politics of the investigation, which put a Republican governor and a Republican-led legislature in conflict. Not the fact that Barnes’ participation in legislative work dwindled as he and other committee members sat in a basement hearing room taking testimony.

“It’s not something I will ever look back on with joy or satisfaction,” he said.

But it’s possible that other lawmakers — hopefully in a distant future — will look back on the episode and see something positive. While Barnes said he wished there never had been a need for the committee to exist, he said he was proud that the committee took a nonpartisan approach and that the House didn’t shirk from its duty.

Barnes said he and House Speaker Todd Richardson, a fellow lawyer, both had reached the conclusion that the House had a separate and independent responsibility to investigate the matter apart from the criminal proceedings. Then they began studying the transcripts from the last impeachment of a statewide elected official, that of Secretary of State Judith Moriarty in 1994.

“And there was a representative from Butler County with the last name Richardson who made the exact same points,” Barnes said. It was Richardson’s father, Mark Richardson, who was a Republican member of the House at the time. “It was remarkable reading his words on the House’s responsibility in such matters and comparing them to what Todd and I had been saying, and he was saying the exact same thing 25 years prior.”

After eight years in the House, Barnes is moving on. In January, he took his consumer class-action practice to Simmons Hanly Conroy, where he is a shareholder. He will remain based in Jefferson City, but he said he is pleased to have served out his term in the legislature and does not intend to be a lobbyist.

“I don’t have any profound final statement,” he said, “other than we had a task and we carried it out responsibly for the people of this state.”

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