UPDATE: Barkus Evidence Suppression Hearing Canceled

By Beacon Staff

UPDATE: A court hearing dealing with the investigation of a Flathead Lake boat crash that injured five people, including U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, has been canceled.

The hearing, which had been scheduled Friday, has been vacated at the request of prosecutors, court records said. No charges have been filed yet in the case.

The investigative subpoena hearing originally was set to discuss a motion by an attorney for the boat’s driver, Kalispell state Sen. Greg Barkus, to suppress evidence.

ORIGINAL STORY: One month after Barkus crashed his boat onto the rocky shoreline near Wayfarer’s State Park the night of Aug. 27, almost no information has been released by Flathead County law enforcement regarding the results of the investigation.

The suppression hearing, originally scheduled for Oct. 2 after a motion by Barkus’ attorney, Todd Glazier, would have been presided over by District Judge William Nels Swandal of Livingston, after all three Flathead County district judges removed themselves from any proceedings related to the Barkus case because they know him.

No charges have been filed against Barkus, the Republican state Senate Majority Whip. Before removing herself from the case, District Judge Katherine Curtis ordered a seal on the results of an investigative subpoena for Barkus’ medical records from the night of the crash. Prior to being prevented from speaking about the case, Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan said in the weeks following the crash that Barkus had been drinking that evening at a dinner in Lakeside. Barkus told the Beacon he had a “minimal amount of alcohol to drink” that night.

Although the results of Barkus’ blood alcohol content were mailed from the state crime lab in Missoula to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 16, according to Judy Beck at the state Justice Department, it remains unclear whether any charges may be filed.

Helena attorney Mike Meloy, who has successfully argued several high-profile cases dealing with access to public records, said holding a suppression hearing before any charges have been filed is “very unusual.”

“I’ve never heard of it being filed before some criminal charges have been filed,” Meloy said. “It’s not only unusual but I don’t understand how it can happen.”

Meloy, who has worked previously for Democrats, also questioned whether secrecy provisions granted by the state Constitution apply to Barkus, in terms of granting public access to the investigation information, because he is a public servant in his capacity as a state lawmaker.

While he would not comment on Barkus’ case, Corrigan said he has never participated in a suppression hearing that occurs before charges are filed.

Glazier did not return a call for comment.

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