Bro. Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr.

Alpha Chapter, Spring 1954


The Honorable Arthur Louis Burnett, Sr. has always had a passion for excellence and scholarship. Born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia March 15, 1935 he graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class. He then attended Howard University where he graduated summa cum laude

and New York University Law School for his J.D. According to Judge Burnett, “New York University Law School was not his first choice”. He preferred to study law in his home state, but the state of Virginia would not admit him to attend the University of Virginia Law School in Charlottesville, Virginia and there were no Black law schools.  With potential litigation pending, the Commonwealth of Virginia agreed to pay for his education to attend New YorkUniversity School of Law.
 
Judge Burnett began his career as a prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in June 1958. While there he earned the Attorney General’s Sustained Superior Performance Award. He left in April 1965 to become an Assistant United States Attorney for the District
of Columbia, a position he held for almost four years.  He went on to become the first Legal Advisor, a position now described as General Counsel, for the Metropolitan Police Department. On June 26, 1969, Judge Burnett was appointed as one of the first two United States Magistrates
for the District of Columbia and the first African American to serve as a Magistrate Judge in the United States. In 1975, he became Assistant General Counsel at the United States Civil Service Commission where he helped to developthe Reorganization Plans and the legislation creating
the Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.  He was one of the principal attorneys advising the Civil Service Commission members and President Jimmy Carter on government reorganization, civil service reforms and
proposed legislation, and all federal government personnel issues. He returned to the U.S. District Court for the Districtof Columbia as a Magistrate Judge in January 1980.


President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in November 1987 where he served until his retirement in October 1998. He took Senior Judge status the same year. Since retirement, Judge Burnett has been teaching as an adjunct law professor at
two law schools and working with several civic, community and professional organizations to address the crisis of drug use and abuse in minority communities. Since August 1, 2004 he has been on sabbatical leave from the Superior Court serving as the National Executive Director, National
African American Drug Policy Coalition.

During all of this illustrious legal career, Judge Burnett has
been passionate about reaching out and giving back. As a United States Magistrate Judge and as a Superior Court Judge it is estimated that he has mentored over 2,000 law student judicial interns. In addition, his speeches to minority
high school, college and law school audiences are too numerous to attempt to quantify. His efforts to bring diversityto the legal profession is exemplary.  Judge Burnett served as Chair of the ABA Judicial Division’s National Conference of Special Court Judges 1974-1975. He is a former president of the National Council of United States Magistrate Judges; the District of Columbia chapter of the Federal Bar Association; and the Prettyman-Leventhal American Inn of Court. He is the recipient of the ABA National Conference of Special Court Judges’ Franklin N. Flascher Judicial Award as the Outstanding Special Court Judge in 1985; the Federal Bar Association’s President’s Award; the National Bar Association’s President’s Award; in 2004 the National Bar Association’s Judicial
Council Raymond Pace Alexander Award for Lifetime Contributions to Judicial Advocacy; also in 2004 the National Bar Association’s highest award, the C. Francis Stradford Award; the National Conference of State Trial Judges Award as one of its Outstanding Judges in 1999, and the Ollie May
Cooper Award of the Washington Bar Association.


Bro. Burnett was initiated in Omega through Alpha Chapter on May 1, 1954.

Source: The Oracle, Fall/Winter 2008

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