Don Burnett has served as Interim President of the University of Idaho since June 1, 2013. His previous career 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 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 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 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 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; and expanded the delivery of legal education in the capital city of Boise. As dean, while performing administrative duties, Don also 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 chaired an 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.
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.