In the pursuit of justice, Jay Barnett walked the streets of Oklahoma City for nearly 25 years as a police officer. Now, he’s walking the halls of Oklahoma City University’s law school. Even though the environment has changed, the objective has not.
“I love the law, but I love it because it pursues justice,” Barnett says. “What I loved about police work in the beginning was the pursuit of justice. I’m now coming to the realization that sometimes we fail in the pursuit of justice, which is what attracted me that much more to the practice of law. In the practice of law, it feels like we have a greater input into the processes we use to pursue justice.”
As a retired OKCPD Lieutenant, Barnett has seen the intricacies of this pursuit up close. Whether from the perspective of the officer responding to the call or the victim making the call or the criminal running from that call, he’s seen firsthand the reality of situations where justice is absent.
“Most police officers want to go out and save the world. In the end, if you actually go out and save one or two people, if you’ve actually saved lives in the course of your career, that’s a big deal,” says Barnett.
This reality is what often causes the optimism in new police officers to erode into pessimism. It’s a battle he knows well and has seen often.
“When I’ve seen bitterness setting in, I’ve often told these officers, ‘On every call, you’re dealing with someone who needs help. Your attitude towards them and your desire to help them, even if you can’t fix what’s happened, is making a difference. You’re bringing your skills and ability to bear on their problems. It may not be the difference you envisioned when you were hired, but don’t discount the difference you are making.”
It’s his own passion to make a difference that kept the hope and desire to eventually attend law school in the back of his mind all these years. Finally, the time just seemed right.
“It’s different when you’ve wanted something for a long time and it hasn’t worked out. All of a sudden, when the door opens and it’s available, you don’t take it for granted.”
Making this move for he and his family was a sacrifice, but it wasn’t a tough call. In fact, he said the day he told his wife of the opportunity to attend law school and all the financial sacrifice it would make, her response was, “It’s about time.”
Now, as a new graduate, his shift is about to end. The days of official schooling will be coming to a close and the days of practice will be starting. That keen observation and understanding of people, those lessons he learned on the streets, he’ll be taking into the courtroom. The beat may have changed, but the objective remains. This is still about justice.
“I want to contribute to the world around me until I die, until they put me in the ground,” Barnett says. “Being an attorney is my way of continuing to encounter people in need and really make a difference. For them. For society. For the better.”