A circuit court judge who was central to the planning process for a new Jackson County jail announced Friday that he will retire and take a job with the company in charge of building that $300 million project.
Judge David M. Byrn, 64, said in a news release that he would end his nearly 13 years on the bench effective July 29. For part of his two-year term as presiding judge of the 16th Circuit court, Byrn was one of five top public officials who comprised the steering committee advising project manager JCDC Partners on the size, location and cost of the jail, as well as other matters.
Upon his retirement, Byrn will begin work for one of the two firms that make up that partnership: Florida-based CGL Companies, which describes itself as an international expert in planning, designing, maintaining and operating criminal justice facilities, including jails and courthouses.
The announcement concerned some county officials, who say the move might raise questions about the objectivity of the planning process for the county’s largest construction project since the Truman Sports Complex renovations a decade ago.
“I am concerned about the appearance that a member of the committee that’s been moving toward a new jail and advocating, from what I’ve been told, a larger jail is now going to work for the entity that has been tasked to help us build the jail,” legislator Crystal Williams told The Star. “Further that entity gets paid more if the jail is larger.”
In response to The Star’s questions about the move, Byrn issued the following statement:
“I had no ’close ties’ to CGL while serving as the Court’s representative on the steering committee considering various issues regarding the potential construction of a new detention center for Jackson County. CGL is part of a consulting company hired by Jackson County, not the Court, for that purpose and did not lobby or advocate for any particular outcome — which in any event would have to be approved by the County Executive and Legislature.”
As a judge, Byrn was paid $155,797 in 2020.
In his new job at CGL, Byrn “will assist local, state and federal entities with the planning of courthouses and detention centers, and with issues related to court operations, court management and continuity of operations,” according to the news release sent out by the 16th Judicial Circuit.
County legislator Theresa Galvin said she understood why some might have concerns about the appearance of Byrn retiring to work for CGL, but described him as “a very ethical person” whose criminal justice experience and enthusiasm for the jail project will benefit the company.
“I think he would do a great job in that position,” she said. “I am sad to see him go.”
The jail project steering committee was formed in March 2019, before JCDC Partners was hired. County Executive Frank White, Sheriff Darryl Forté and Galvin, who then chaired the legislature, were its initial members. Byrn and County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker were added later.
White was not told of Byrn’s decision to join CGL ahead of time and had no immediate reaction to his announcement.
“We are currently assessing the situation and have no further comment at this time,” said White’s chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, in a text message.
Baker declined comment. Forté could be immediately reached for comment. CGL also did not respond to The Star’s request for comment.
Former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt appointed Byrn to the court in 2008. Previously he had been in private practice for 27 years with the Jeter Rains & Byrn law firm, where he occasionally represented clients on matters related to construction projects. It was work that he enjoyed, he told CGL chief executive officer Eli Gage on the company’s “360 Justice” podcast recently in a discussion about his work on the jail steering committee.
“Maybe it’s the idea of problem solving or it’s just something I enjoy doing as a lawyer and working with fantastic clients, trying to build something, as corny as that might sound, in many cases you’re building something that you can then see at the end,” the transcript of the podcast quoted Byrn as saying.
Byrn also said on that podcast that he enjoyed working on the jail project and had gained other experience while overseeing repairs to water-damaged courtrooms at the courthouse in downtown Kansas City.