Don Burnett is Professor and past Dean at the University of Idaho College of Law. He served as Interim President of the University from June 1, 2013, to March 1, 2014. His career has encompassed service as an appellate judge, practicing lawyer, Army JAG officer, state bar president, law professor, and dean of two law schools.
Born at Pocatello, Idaho, in 1946, Don received his baccalaureate degree magna cum laude in economics from Harvard, his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago, and an LL.M. degree from the University of Virginia. He also graduated on the “Commandant’s List” from the Command & General Staff College of the U.S. Army. As a reserve officer in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Don’s service included the position of reserve deputy commandant and academic director of The Judge Advocate General’s School. He received the U.S. Armed Forces Legion of Merit award for career achievements when he retired with the rank of Colonel.
Don’s concurrent civilian career began with service as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and as an assistant attorney general for the State of Idaho. He entered private practice in Pocatello; became president of the Idaho State Bar; chaired the Bar’s professional conduct standards committee; served as a judge of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court; and was executive director of the Idaho Judicial Council. In 1982 he was appointed to the newly formed Idaho Court of Appeals; in 1986 he was retained in office by statewide election.
In 1990 Don accepted the University of Louisville’s appointment as dean of the law school now named, through efforts by Don and his colleagues, for the school’s historic benefactor: Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Don served twelve years on the Brandeis faculty, ten years as the dean. He chaired the Kentucky Bar Association’s Ethics Committee; served as convening member of the Kentucky Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy; and served on the board of directors of Health Kentucky (a nonprofit organization devoted to improving healthcare for the poor).
In 2002, Don returned to his native state, accepting appointment as Dean of the University of Idaho College of Law. He served in that capacity for eleven years, until being named Interim President of the University. During this period, the College of Law established a pro bono service program encompassing all students; added subject areas of curricular emphasis and interdisciplinary collaboration; raised the level of institutional support for faculty scholarship; enhanced diversity in the faculty and student body; expanded the delivery of legal education in the capital city of Boise; and embarked with the Idaho Supreme Court upon development of an Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center on the Capitol Mall in Boise. As Dean, while performing administrative duties, Don taught Professional Responsibility and Criminal Procedure courses, a Native American Natural Resources Law seminar, and an undergraduate Honors Program seminar
During his Idaho deanship, Don also chaired the Idaho Supreme Court’s task force on structure and resources for the state appellate courts in the next quarter-century; chaired the University of Idaho’s Ethical Guidance and Oversight Committee; served as a coordinating dean of university-wide interdisciplinary programs; and served on the Advisory Council for Operation Education, a scholarship program for disabled veterans. He chaired the University’s Steering Committee on Diversity and Human Rights as well as the Professionalism Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. He has received the Idaho State Bar’s Distinguished Lawyer, Outstanding Service, and Professionalism awards.
As Interim President of the University of Idaho, Don worked to broaden participation by staff and faculty in university decision-making, to protect student health and safety, to advance the University’s $225 million capital campaign, and to build pride in the University of Idaho’s distinctive heritage. His writings and speeches often described the University as “Idaho’s national land-grant, founding, comprehensive, constitutionally established, and, therefore, flagship institution.” He emphasized collaboration with sister institutions in promoting all of higher education in Idaho.
Don’s spouse, Karen Trujillo Burnett, is a Pocatello native as well. She is an author, having received her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of Idaho.