Don Burnett's career has encompassed service as an appellate judge, practicing lawyer, JAG officer, state bar president, law professor, and dean of two law schools. Born at Pocatello, Idaho, in 1946, he 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 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He received the U.S. Armed Forces Legion of Merit award for career achievements when he retired as a Colonel in 2001.
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 by contract as a judge of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court; and served as executive director of the Idaho Judicial Council. In 1982, he was appointed to the newly formed Idaho Court of Appeals by Governor John V. Evans, and he was retained in office by statewide election (unopposed) in 1986.
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 and visionary benefactor: Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Don served twelve years on the Brandeis faculty, ten years as the dean. In addition to his academic work in Louisville, he chaired the Ethics Committee of the Kentucky Bar Association as well as the State Judiciary Policy Council of the Kentucky Center for Public Issues. He served as the convening member of the Kentucky Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. He was a member of the board and the executive committee of Health Kentucky, Inc. (a nonprofit organization devoted to improving healthcare for the poor).
In 2002, Don accepted the University of Idaho's invitation to return to his native state. In addition to administrative duties as dean, he has taught the Professional Responsibility and Criminal Procedure courses, the Indian Natural Resources Law seminar, and an undergraduate Honors Program seminar. In 2007 he chaired the Idaho Supreme Court's task force on structure and resources for the state appellate courts in the next quarter-century. He currently chairs the University of Idaho's Ethical Guidance and Oversight Committee and is the coordinating dean of the University's interdisciplinary water resources, environmental science, and professional science masters programs. He serves on the Advisory Council for Operation Education, a scholarship program for disabled veterans. He previously chaired the University's Steering Committee on Diversity and Human Rights. He has received the Idaho State Bar's Distinguished Lawyer, Outstanding Service, and Professionalism awards.
Don's scholarly and teaching interests include professional responsibility, criminal procedure, Indian law, economic analysis of law, and judicial decision-making. He has served as national chair of the Professionalism Committee, American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. He is an elected Fellow of the American Bar Foundation; member of the steering committee of the American Judicature Society's National Advisory Council; and member of the Idaho Law Foundation Board of Directors.