Interim President Don Burnett Biography
Don Burnett began serving as the University of Idaho’s interim president on June 1, 2013.
He was selected by the University’s Board of Regents to serve during the course of a nationwide search for a permanent president. Prior to assuming the presidency, he served as the Dean of the University of Idaho College of Law since 2002.
In addition to administrative duties as dean, he chaired the University of Idaho’s Ethical Guidance and Oversight Committee and served as the coordinating dean of the University’s interdisciplinary water resources, environmental science, and professional science masters degree programs. He previously chaired the University’s Steering Committee on Diversity and Human Rights. He continues to serve with his wife, Karen Trujillo Burnett, on the Advisory Council for Operation Education -- a scholarship program for disabled veterans.
A son of two Vandals, Burnett was born in 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 his LL.M. degree from the University of Virginia. He also graduated on the “Commandant’s List” from the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College. His wife Karen holds a Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) degree from the University of Idaho.
Burnett’s scholarly and teaching interests include professional responsibility, criminal procedure, Native American law, economic analysis of law, and judicial decision-making. He has served as the national chairperson of the Professionalism Committee, American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar; an elected Fellow of the American Bar Foundation; a member of the American Judicature Society’s National Advisory Council and its Task Force on Judicial Independence and Accountability; and a member of the Idaho Law Foundation Board of Directors. 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 has also received the Idaho State Bar’s Distinguished Lawyer, Outstanding Service, and Professionalism awards.
Burnett’s professional 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. He 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 Idaho Court of Appeals by Governor John V. Evans, and he was retained in office by statewide election (unopposed) in 1986.
In 1990, Burnett accepted the University of Louisville’s appointment as dean of the law school now named for its historic and visionary benefactor: Justice Louis D. Brandeis. Burnett served 12 years on the Brandeis faculty, including 10 years in the deanship. In addition to his academic work in Louisville, Burnett 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 non-profit organization devoted to improving healthcare for the poor).
As a reserve officer in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Burnett’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 with the rank of colonel in 2001.