Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Oral History Project United States Courts
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
District of Columbia Circuit
Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
Interviews conducted by:
William Marmon, Esquire
September 23, 2019
October 16, 24 and 29, 2019
November 5, 2019
Preface. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. i
Oral History Agreements
Honorable Arthur Burnett, Senior………………………………………………………………….. iii
William Marmon, Esquire. ……………………………………………………………………………..v
Oral History Transcripts of Interviews
September 23, 2019 ……………………………………………………………………………………….1
October 16, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………….23
October 24, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………….55
October 29, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………….91
November 5, 2019 ………………………………………………………………………………………110
Index …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. A-1
Table of Cases and Statutes …………………………………………………………………………………B-1
Compilation of Memoranda and Opinions …………………………………………………….C-1
Affidavit for Search Warrants -Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology ……… D-1
Biographical Sketches
Honorable Arthur Burnett, Senior……………………………………………………………… E-1
William Marmon, Esquire ……………………………………………………………………….. F-1
The following pages record interviews conducted on the dates indicated. The interviews were
recorded digitally or on cassette tape, and the interviewee and the interviewer have been afforded
an opportunity to review and edit the transcript.
The contents hereof and all literary rights pertaining hereto are governed by, and are subject to, the
Oral History Agreements included herewith.
© 2020 Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
All rights reserved.
The goal of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
Circuit is to preserve the recollections of the judges of the Courts of the District of Columbia
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The Project began in 1991. Oral history interviews are conducted by volunteer attorneys who are
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Schedule A
Voice recordings (digital recordings, cassette tapes) and transcripts resulting from five
interviews with the Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr., conducted on the following dates:
Description of Media
Interview No. and Date Containing Voice Recordings Pages of Transcript
1. September 23, 2019 All on one CD 1-22
2. October 16, 2019 23-54
3. October 24, 2019 55-90
4. October 29, 2019 91-109
5. November 5, 2019 110-136
The transcripts of the interviews are contained on one CD.

Schedule A
Voice recordings (digital recordings, cassette tapes) and transcripts resulting from five
interviews with the Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr., conducted on the following dates:
Description of Media
Interview No. and Date Containing Voice Recordings Pages of Transcript
1. September 23, 2019 All on one CD 1-22
2. October 16, 2019 23-54
3. October 24, 2019 55-90
4. October 29, 2019 91-109
5. November 5, 2019 110-136
The transcripts of the interviews are contained on one CD.
Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical Society
of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is William Marmon and the interviewee is
Honorable Arthur Burnett. The interview took place at the home of William Marmon in Chevy Chase
Maryland, on Monday, September 23, 2019. This is the first interview.
MR. MARMON: Today we are going to start with your birth and early years in Spotsylvania
County, Virginia. Please tell about what it was like growing up as a boy
in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in 1935, when you were born.
JUDGE BURNETT: March 15, 1935 in a midwife delivery in my mother’s bedroom, and
indeed the midwife was my father’s older sister. I was born in a house
where we did not have electricity yet. I recall when I was about four or
five years of age electricians coming in and putting in electricity and
hanging lights from our ceiling. Our house was located basically out in
the county from the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, at about a two to
three miles from where George Washington reputedly threw a silver dollar
across the Rappahannock River.
I recall when I got to be about four or five years of age, my mother
started reading kindergarten-type books to me and teaching me to read
about Jack and Jill and Spot and so forth, and by the time I was about five
or six, I started reading Jet magazine, a black magazine, about the lives of
Negroes, or colored people as they were then called, and Afro-Americans,
and I started asking questions, “Mom, why are colored people treated
differently than other people?” Why aren’t we treated based on our
individual personalities and what we can do?”
Right from the beginning, they said I always had an inquiring mind
about human behavior and relationships, and then in 1941, I started school
with a teacher by the name of Eleanor Lewis who taught 1st through the 3rd
grades at a school where we were bussed. The bus was provided by my
uncle, because the county didn’t have county buses to take Negro kids to
school. There were only two Negro schools in the county. They were
Summit Elementary and John J. Wright High School. I had such an
inquisitive mind that the schoolteacher, Ms. Lewis, kind of mentored me
and so forth, and then since I was kind of learning fast and didn’t realize it
at the time, she had me assisting in teaching the other children. Therefore,
when I finished 1st grade, she made me her teacher’s assistant, and when I
got to the 2nd grade, to teach the 1st grade. And then when I got to 2nd
grade, she had me teach both 2nd and 1st year classes. We had a second
teacher who taught the 4th through the 6th grade, but when I got to the
point of being transferred to the 4th grade, she transferred herself as the
senior teacher and said she wanted me to work with her, and said
therefore, “I’m going to go with you.” That was the 4th through the 6
grade. Each time, I ended up being her teaching assistant, and she would
preach to me by saying, “Arthur, God gave you a great mind. You’re
going to be the first colored lawyer from this area.” I said “I would do my
When I got to the 6th grade, going into the 7
th grade, I was going to
be transferred to John J. Wright High School, which at that point only 7th
to the 11th grade. There was a Ms. Sadie Combs who was the librarian.
She called Ms. Combs and said “You have a child prodigy coming to you,
his name is Arthur Burnett.” We want you to take over mentoring him
because he’s going to go places in life. So when I got to John J. Wright
High School, the librarian made me her assistant librarian. Every week or
so, she’d give me a book to read about Negro history and segregation. I
was a vociferous reader. By the time I got to my junior year, I had
finished almost all the high school courses. Mr. A. L. Scott, the principal,
said you are too young to go to college. I want you to be my assistant, and
I want you to travel across the state of Virginia to all the contests I can get
you in, speaking contests, oratory competitions, and so forth. I was the
John J. Wright representative in programs all over the state of Virginia.
Indeed, I also had excelled in farming enterprises, raising chickens
and pigs and so forth. At that point, the Fredericksburg Fair permitted
Negroes to put entrants into the fair. I ended up winning blue ribbons in
competition with other farmers and gardeners. As a result of that, Mr. E.
A. Ragland, my agriculture instructor, and Mr. A.L. Scott, my principal,
wanted me to go to Tuskegee Institute to become another Booker T.
Washington or a George Washington Carver to become an agricultural
expert. They had not anticipated Brown at that point. They said we want
you to become a teacher of agricultural science. “Teach Negro boys how
to be excellent farmers.” I said I don’t want to work with just animals and
chickens. I want to work with people.
And, of course, at 12 or 13 years of age, as a Baptist, you had also
become a Sunday school teacher. As a Sunday school teacher, I was such
an orator that the minister of our church said he wanted me to be his youth
minister. I started preaching sermons when I was 12 or years of age. And I
said don’t want to just teach people to live to get to Heaven, I want to
bring a little bit of Heaven to Earth. I want to do things seven days a
week, not just on weekends. So then they said go to Tuskegee Institute
and then go to Virginia Union seminary to become a Baptist minister, so
in addition to teaching Negroes how to be farm experts, you can then be a
preacher. I said well I’m interested in more than just preaching and telling
people what to do. I think even before I noticed the Lord’s Prayer that
there shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. I said Jesus Christ, when he
was 12 years of age, said I must be about my Father’s work. I think I must
be about what God has in store for me, and I said I’m not going to
Tuskegee. I’m going to Howard University and its Law School and
become a lawyer to try to change life in America.
MR. MARMON: I want to go back to Spotsylvania. You had animals at your house?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. I raised pigs and chickens. My grandfather even gave me a pig to
raise, my personal pig, and that pig got placed in the farm market and was
sold at a profit. I raised chickens and placed them in fair competitions. I
raised rabbits. I had rabbits that were so tame that they would run around
the yard. I’d pick them up and pet them, and I could talk with the animals.
I got to be a person who was considered a farm expert. Mr. E. A. Ragland
had me teach other youngsters how to be farm experts. And I won blue
MR. MARMON: Tell me a little about your parents.
JUDGE BURNETT: My father only had a sixth-grade education. He worked at Sylvania plant,
which was a cellophane manufacturing plant that manufactured stuff like
wraps you see on food stuff and so forth, and he was its kind-of outside
person to go to the post office to pick up the mail, go to the bank and
deposit checks and run other errands in the town. And fortunately, I
guess, for him, he had foot problems, so he didn’t get drafted into World
War II, although he was old enough to go into World War II as an enlistee
or draftee. During WWII, he would end up working two shifts. He said I
only got a sixth-grade education, but I’ll work sixteen hours a day if I have
to, to make sure my children get an education. And during 1940, 1941
until 1952, when I went off to college, I would see him on Monday and
wouldn’t see him again until Friday because he would go to work at 7:00
in the morning and come home at 11:00 at night and go again at 5:00 or
6:00 in the morning when I was still asleep.
MR. MARMON: How about your mom?
JUDGE BURNETT: Mom was a housekeeper, and she canned vegetables and cleaned houses
and so forth. I guess after we got to be teenagers, she became a maid
cleaning motels and other rooming houses to try to add to the money to
put me and my sister, who is five years younger and my younger brother
who is seven years younger, to save money so all three of us could get a
college education.
MR. MARMON: Were they born in Virginia?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. They were both born in Virginia. My father was from King George
County, and my mother was from King George County but later moved to
Spotsylvania County.
MR. MARMON: You said you have one brother and sister?
JUDGE BURNETT: One sister and one brother. My sister is five years younger than I am. My
brother is seven-and-a-half years younger. So there was a substantial gap
between me and my two siblings.
MR. MARMON: Tell me a little bit more about your siblings.
JUDGE BURNETT: My sister Lenora Burnett Davis was five years younger, and my brother,
Richard Earl Burnett, is 7 ½ years younger. They came along, and I was
the big brother, so they say I grew up like I was a generation ahead of
MR. MARMON: Are they alive today?
JUDGE BURNETT: They are both alive and very active. My sister actually did a Ph.D.
program and was the admissions person for Johns Hopkins School of
Public Health. She was president of HIV organization in Baltimore and
has become one of the leading HIV experts in the country today.
My brother ended up becoming a musician. He was a music
director for schools in Richmond, Virginia, and played in numerous bands.
He paid his way as a band leader or participant through college and then
through his master’s degree.
MR. MARMON: You were aware of segregation in Virginia when you were growing up?
JUDGE BURNETT: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, when I finished high school in 1952, I
applied for a job at an office supply place as a stock boy. I put things on
the shelf, mopped up the floor and so forth. I was the only colored
employee to do that at seventeen years of age. But in order to make
money for college, I also took a night job at Howard Johnson restaurant.
So I had two jobs the first summer after I finished high school.
I had an incident that summer at Howard Johnson restaurant in
July of 1952 on the third weekend in July. My father’s vehicle was in the
shop. I was left at the restaurant to finish mopping up, cleaning up, and
locking up while I waited for my father to come pick me up. I locked the
place, went out to the back stoop to wait for him. Before my father got
there, a police car pulled up. Two officers jump out, and as close as the
distance from here and that wall, about 8-10 feet away. They approached
me with guns drawn. I said, “Officer, what’s the problem? I work here.”
The driver said, “Yeah, I bet you do,” in a loud arrogant voice, with his
gun pointed directly at me. At that point, my father drove up about sixty
feet or more away, and they made him stay in his car. They actually
arrested me and put me in the backseat of their car and locked the door.
Fortunately, I didn’t get a rap sheet. They took me to Mr. Overtons’
home, and he said he’s the best employee I’ve ever had. He was going to
go away to college, or I would make him manager. And that’s the reason I
didn’t get an arrest record. But I was suspected of being a burglar and
trying to break into the restaurant. This was in July. Had I been like
Brown and made a quick move like I was reaching for something, you
might not be talking to me today, or if I had been cursing or belligerent.
But I stood frozen like a statute and said “Officer, I work here.” And then
I said, Mr. Overton, and then the officer said we have to check on your
story. They put me in the back of the car, locked the doors, and drove me
to Mr. Overton’s home, and that’s how I was exonerated. Had I been
loud, boisterous or disorderly, I could have been shot that night.
MR. MARMON: Were you affected by the fact that you couldn’t use public restrooms?
JUDGE BURNETT: Absolutely. I couldn’t even try on clothes. You had to buy your clothing
product by eye-viewing it, take it home, and if it didn’t fit, tough. When I
got married, my wife went with my mother to go shopping, and they
wouldn’t even let her try on wedding clothes. This was in the l960’s.
MR. MARMON: You somehow transcended all of that.
JUDGE BURNETT: That reaffirms my previous disposition of saying I wanted to become a
lawyer and solve these kinds of problems. A person should not be treated
as inferior just because the color of a person’s skin or complexion. And
suffer from someone jumping to a conclusion that they’re hoodlums or
criminals. So I went to Howard University and notwithstanding being a
straight-A student all through high school, I had not taken geometry and
my English composition wasn’t up to college standards, so at Howard, I
had to take two high school remedial courses during my first semester,
September to December of 1952. My other courses were college courses.
I made A’s in all those courses. I went to the dean of the school of liberal
arts, Dean Miller, and pled with him to let me take six extra hours to make
up for the shortfall because I had to take remedial courses. After two
hours of begging and pleading with him in December of 1952, he let me
take them. He said I hope you’re with us next fall when you would be a
sophomore. You have a lot of guts and courage. He said he had never
done that before, but he would allow me to do it. I took twenty-three
hours the second semester, made all A’s, and was number one in my class.
Then, as a result of that performance, I got to be a sophomore.
There was a course involving juvenile delinquency in the Master’s social
work program. I went to the dean and asked can I take that course because
I wanted to become a lawyer. The course was taught by E. Franklin
Frazier, one of the authors the book, The Black Bourgeoisie. I took that
course my sophomore year in the masters of social work program and
made a B-Plus, and E. Franklin Frazier ended up being one of my key
MR. MARMON: Where did you live while at Howard?
JUDGE BURNETT: When I first came to Washington, I lived in Cook Hall, one of the men’s
dormitories. That was in September, October, and November. I got to a
point where I said I can’t afford to stay on campus because I developed
such a reputation as a good student that I had students lined up outside my
dorm door for me to tutor and teach them. I didn’t have time to do my
own studying. So I went to one of my mother’s sisters who lived in
Washington, DC. She is now deceased. I said I can’t find time to do my
own studying and activities because everybody’s pounding on my door,
can I come live with you. She said, “We don’t have space, but my
neighbor next door has a sister who lives in upper Northwest Washington,
and they have a big two-story house, and they would love to have a
studious kid like you.” She called her, and I ended up moving off campus
and living with Ms. Bonner and her husband as if I was their grandson.
One night while still living in the dormitory between 7:00 p.m. and
11:00 p.m., I had twenty-one students asking me to be their counselor,
mentor because of the reputation I had developed. In addition, because of
my reputation, they made me basically the assistant to the Dean of Men,
Dr. Curry.
MR. MARMON: How did you survive not being bitter by the segregated South?
JUDGE BURNETT: I didn’t have time to be bitter. I had to have time to defend myself to be
able to cope and handle the situation and make changes in society. So I
continued making “A” grades, ended up being number one in my class,
and lo’ and behold, Brown v. Board of Education came down. Well,
before that, my reputation got to be such at Howard that I became a
fraternity brother in a fraternity called Omega Psi Phi, and indeed, one of
the founders of that organization was Professor Frank Coburn. He was a
physics instructor and taught introduction to the sciences. I was so well
known, that instead of becoming president of that Greek organization, they
made me president of all the Greek organizations on the Howard
University campus. So I was going along pretty happy, just doing the
usual things, which I enjoyed.
And lo and behold, Brown v. Board of Education came along in
May 1954. In my sophomore year also, Mordecai Johnson, the first black
president of Howard University, was contacted by Congressman Adam
Clayton Powell, who had a radio station. He said I’m protesting
segregation in America. I have a radio station every Saturday. I want one
of your students at Howard to be my guest on these radio stations. So my
sophomore year on Saturdays, I was picked by President Mordecai
Johnson to be Howard’s representative on the radio station in 1953. I
coined a phrase that a person should be judged by the quality of his
performance, not by the accident of his birth or the color of his skin and
support the idea that equality should be based on the individual character
and abilities and not racial issues.
MR. MARMON: What were some of the things you talked about?
JUDGE BURNETT: What I’m talking about right now, do you think segregation in America
should continue to exist? What are your views on what should be done
about segregation in America? That was before Brown was decided.
Brown was decided in May of 1954. This was 1953. I was the
spokesperson for Howard University and its college students in an
abandoned warehouse on V Street NW, right across from where Howard
University Hospital is now, a black radio station, and I would engage in
conversations with him like I’m engaging in conversations with you now.
I thought at that point that was the end of my sojourn with reference to
civil rights matters. Then, October of 1954 came, and James Nabrit, the
Vice President of Howard and former Dean of Howard Law School, called
me to his office. I thought he called me there to talk about some Howard
University school matters. He said, “Arthur, you’re the best we have. We
want you to apply to law school now.” I protested and said I want to go to
Howard Law School, I’m number one in my class, I want to finish college
and then go to Howard Law School.” He said what you can do is go
ahead and apply now to University of Virginia Law School to break the
back of massive resistance to desegregation to comply with the Brown
decision, and those law schools in the top in the nation will admit you
based on your academic record. Once you get in their program, you can
waive or give up your right to a combination law and college degree and
come back here to Howard in the summer between your law school years
and finish up your four years, so you have the privilege of having a
Howard University degree. I said well on those terms, I will go ahead and
volunteer to become a lead plaintiff in the Farmville-Prince Edward
County school cases. By the way, this gentleman sitting next to the wall is
lawyer Thurgood Marshall. He will be your lawyer. I will be his
assistant. And in Virginia is Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill, two
key lawyers in the Farmville School cases, up to this point will be
associated with us. We want you to apply to these law schools now.
So at the end of October 1954, I applied to Columbia, New York
University, Syracuse, Boston, and the University of Virginia. I was
expecting to get a letter from those institutions asking me to come in for
an interview. The first letter I got from each of these schools except the
University of Virginia, and opened was “You are admitted.” They didn’t
even bother to interview me. I never received acknowledgement from the
University of Virginia that it had received my application.
At that point, Dr. Nabrit was the number two person on my case,
kept me advised and said he and Thurgood had met with Herb Brownell,
who was then the Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice, and
said when your case goes public, we will give you two U.S. Marshals to
be with you 24 hours a day to keep you alive.
In November, a month after this October initial interview, I went
home and told my parents I wasn’t going to Howard Law School. They
first thought that because we were in the middle of the Korean War and
everything that I wanted to be involved in the military. I said no, it’s not
that. I’ve been asked by Thurgood Marshall and NAACP to be the lead
plaintiff in this Virginia case. I told my father “That may mean you’ll lose
your job.” My father said “That doesn’t matter. I can’t afford to play golf
with these white guys, but your uncle has a taxi cab company. I can drive
for him, and I can do handiwork around town.” And at that point my
mother started praying the 23d Psalm. And she said it might as well be
you to break the back of segregation. And I told my mother that protesters
and Klan members might kidnap, rape you, or even kill you. She said,
“We’ll run that risk.”
MR. MARMON: Did anything happen?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. Nothing happened.
MR. MARMON: You didn’t go to Virginia Law School?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. What happened was during the period of October and November until
April, we had rumblings from Arkansas about the governor closing all the
colored schools. Virginia closed schools in five counties including Prince
Edwards County. In April of 1955, Dr. Nabrit called me to his office and
told me that the NAACP decided they did not have enough lawyers or
money to go forward in my case and deal with the situation in Arkansas,
which was the Little Rock Nine case. They didn’t have enough lawyers
and money so they were going to settle the U. Va. case and get one of
these other law schools that already admitted me. The state of Virginia
agreed to pay all my expenses at another law school. At that point, I was
prepared to go to Columbia. Thurgood wanted me to go to Columbia. But
three weeks after that discussion, NYU, which was my number 2 choice,
gave me an irresistible offer. In addition to a full scholarship, NYU made
me a teaching assistant in the masters of law program with Emile Zola
Berman, who was considered in competition with Louis Nizer, one of the
two best medical malpractice negligence lawyers in America. That’s how
I ended up at NYU. I declined Columbia. I said my sister and brother are
behind me, and if I go through law school with the equivalent of two full
scholarships, my parents won’t have to worry money for my legal
education. They can save all that money for my two siblings. So that’s
why I ended up at NYU.
MR. MARMON: Tell me again, did Virginia pay your way?
JUDGE BURNETT: NYU billed Virginia, and Virginia paid NYU all my tuition and expenses
for the whole three years.
MR. MARMON: In an attempt to avoid confrontation for not admitting a Negro?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. To avoid having me attend University of Virginia Law School.
MR. MARMON: Have you been back to the University of Virginia?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. As a matter of fact, during the Carter administration, I took a sevenweek course there in senior executive service management under the
federal government. And indeed while in the military, I was offered a
JAG commission in the Army and was supposed to spend two months
there, but I turned that down and accepted a general commission in the
Adjutant General Corps, which I could come back to civilian life as a
reservist. So in September 1959, I declined a JAG commission and came
back to the Justice Department.
MR. MARMON: want to hear a little more about your law school years at NYU.
JUDGE BURNETT: I was surprised when I got to NYU. I always had always assumed that at
NYU blacks were freely integrated into activities. I got to NYU, and I
ended up being the only Negro in my class. There was one in the class
before me. In the day division, there were only two of us in the whole
school. Ironically, as a result of being the only person of color in my
class, every time the professor called on a student, I was that student, and I
always had the answer. As a result, my Jewish friends treated me like I
came here from Mars or outer space. I even had one Jewish friend who
was getting married in Columbia, South Carolina, in the summer of 1957,
and he had listed me to be in his wedding party for the wedding to be held
in early August. It wasn’t until I raised the issue with him about me
participating in a wedding in South Carolina that he realized that would be
an issue. He said he had never even thought of that. The hotel said, no,
you can’t have it here with a Negro in the wedding party. So I had to
withdraw from his wedding so not to upset everything. The professors
were just amazed that I was always prepared. Sometimes classmates
actually applauded when I would answer. By the end of my second year,
out of a class of 300 students, I was number 11 in my class.
MR. MARMON: Were you on Law Review?
JUDGE BURNETT: I was on Law Review as associate research editor and prepared a Note on
one person one vote, which was not published on the ground that it was
“too theoretical.” I was the president of the Benjamin F. Butler Law Club,
and actively participated in other activities.
MR. MARMON: I want to go back a little bit to life in Virginia in 1930’s, 1940’s, and
1950’s. How do you feel about that now?
JUDGE BURNETT: As a matter of fact, I think that Virginia has changed, and people have
even changed. When I was 10 or 11 years of age, I started recruiting
minor jobs from my white neighbors like mowing their lawns, washing
their cars, washing their windows. I even had one white boss who ran a
filling station, an Esso, and I went around to the filling station, and lo and
behold, and then I worked for another white guy who was building a brick
house, a county officer, and he had me help him build his house. They
said you’re so industrious, why do you need to go to college. And my
white neighbors would say you can make a decent living just being a
handyman for the whole community. I said I don’t want to waste my
intellectual ability just being a handyman.
When I was about 11 or 12 years of age, my parents would visit
relatives and friends. I would say I can’t go because I have jobs to do. So
I was a hustler, you might say. I would pick up soda bottles that people
threw away along the side of the road, turn them into the store and get two
cents on a bottle. I did all kinds of odd jobs. The person who ran this
Esso station had a chicken house, and I took care of his chicken flock. I
cleaned the poop out of the chicken house and so forth. And indeed
sometimes he would take a nap in the afternoon and leave the station for
me to run, and I’m just 13 or 14 years of age. I said I’m demonstrating
what talent you are losing because of segregation.
When I told them I was going to college to become a lawyer, their
comment was Negros don’t have money to pay a lawyer and white folks,
they’re not going to patronize you when they can get a white lawyer, so
why do you want to be a lawyer? Why don’t you just stay here and keep
doing what you’re doing now?
MR. MARMON: What was your answer to that?
JUDGE BURNETT: My answer was now is not the time for me not to do something. We have
to change the attitude of people where people are recognized for their
talent and ability and what they can do and achieve. That’s why I’m
working as I’m working now. As a matter of fact, when I got to be a
senior in high school, the local newspaper, The Freelance Star, did an
interview of me and published a story about a young colored boy admitted
to go to college saves $1,000 for college. That was front-page news, that I
saved $1,000 cash in 1950s money of my own, just through my personal
hustling. Like I said, I raised chickens. I even sold chickens, and
sometimes took them to the butcher shop.
MR. MARMON: So you made the best of it.
JUDGE BURNETT: There was a time in the evening when it was getting near dark and I was
mowing people’s lawns, a police car driving through the area pulled up
and said, “Boy, what are you doing out there?” I said I’m working
mowing this woman’s lawn. They didn’t believe it. They went up and
knocked on the door to make sure that I wasn’t casing their place for
robbery or burglary or something. So I even had police officers
questioning my being a workaholic, you might say.
MR. MARMON: You finished Howard in three years.
JUDGE BURNETT: To back up, actually, in the summers of 1956 and 1957, I came back to
Howard to finish up a complete four-year program. I declined to take a
combination degree based on satisfactory completion of my first year of
law school. I came back to Howard and got my degree from Howard in
October of 1957, summa cum laude, with a 3.93 GPA, just shy of a 4.0 for
four years of work. The following June, I received my law degree from
NYU. I finished number 24 in a class of nearly 300 students. So actually
I did seven years of academic work in six calendar years. So I had the
distinction at this point, at least in my fraternity of being the highestranked Omega Phi Psi graduate from Howard University.
MR. MARMON: You went immediately into the military?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. Let me back up. While at NYU, I had entered law school with the
idea of applying for a JAG commission, Judge Advocate General, as a
lawyer in the Air Force because I had also in college been in the Air Force
ROTC program for the first two years of college, and I was the number
one ROTC person at that point as well. But when I began my third year,
at the Bolling Air Force Base for physical examination, my eyes
disqualified me for pilot training. So I decided then to withdraw from the
ROTC program because I could no longer apply to fly planes. So I entered
law school with the idea of applying for a JAG commission in the Air
Force. In my third year in Law School I applied to the U.S. Department of
Justice and I was selected for the honors program but still subject to being
drafted. So I applied immediately when I finished law school for a JAG
commission in the Air Force. In the meantime, the local draft board had
not held up drafting me even though the Air Force advised them that I was
in the top list of candidates they were considering. So after about four
months with the Justice Department, I went on active duty in November of
1958, as a private E1, like I had only a high school education. The second
day I was on duty, they made me an acting sergeant in charge of a platoon.
I did that for eight weeks, and then lo and behold, the second eight weeks
in advance administrative training they made me the professor, and the
teacher in the second eight-week course. I thought they would assign me
to at least to a law office. I had been admitted to the bar and was a
licensed lawyer. Then after the eight-weeks as part of cadre, even though
I was a draftee, I was shipped to Ft. Ord, California, again to an Army
Personnel Operation as a Chief Personnel Specialist to the Sergent Major
and to a Colonel who was a commanding officer of a brigade of five battle
groups of twenty-five companies. The commanding general and the
deputy commanding general at Ft. Ord were killed in an airplane crash.
Colonel Warren, who was the brigade commander, became acting post
commander. He was a full colonel. I ended up becoming an acting like a
colonel, in the sense that I did his work, and then every day at 3:00 p.m. he
would come inside and sign papers. But I oversaw the operation of a full
brigade of five battle groups, twenty-five companies, and I even ended up
getting a special commendation from William Brucker, who had been a
member of Congress and Secretary of Army. They wanted me to stay on
active duty. I said I don’t want to stay on active duty to spend 18 years
getting a rank if I’m doing what I’m doing now. So I applied for a JAG
commission in the Army and in September of 1960, they offered me a
JAG commission, but they wanted me to stay on active duty another four
years. I said I don’t want to be on active duty another four years, so give
me a commission in any field they thought I was qualified–military police
or quartermaster corps. They gave me a second lieutenant commission as
a reservist in the Army’s Adjutant General Corps, Personnel
I came back to Washington at the end of November 1960 to return
to the Justice Department. John F. Kennedy had just been elected. On
January 21, 1961, Bobby Kennedy called for me, and that opened up a
door that put me at the heart of the civil rights movement. I ended up
being a special assistant to Robert Kennedy to make sure the Communist
party would not infiltrate the Martin Luther King movement and to make
sure the FBI did not engage in unlawful practices and to make sure black
leaders did not commit any crimes. I was represented as Kennedy’s aide
or his butler, but I was his eyes and ears in the civil rights movement, and
I was sworn to the same standards as a CIA agent. And for three-and-ahalf years, from January 21, 1961, until April of 1965, I was a confidential
inside agent of the administration. Indeed, for three-and-a-half years, I
was under surveillance by the FBI.
JUDGE BURNETT: I’m still not mentioning anything I know that’s not already in the public
domain. Indeed, when Jack Kennedy was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy
recused himself and deputized me to act for him and oversee the Lee
Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby incident and fiasco in Dallas, Texas.
MR. MARMON: Wow. What did the FBI think about that?
JUDGE BURNETT: When I was investigated, before appointment by Ronald Reagan, the FBI
agent told me, he said that there are 3 ½ years’ worth of tape on me and
that I’m cleaner than any FBI agent he could find. This agent was sitting
in my living room. My middle daughter let the agent in while I was
outside. I came in, and there’s a stranger sitting in my living room. I said,
“Who are you and why are you here?” He said I’m an FBI agent and I’m
investigating you for appointment as a judge by President Reagan, and
then he went on and mentioned about the 3 ½ years of FBI tapes.
MR. MARMON: Shall we stop here for today?
JUDGE BURNETT: I think it’s a good point.
Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is William Marmon and the interviewee
is Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr. The interview took place at the home of William Marmon on
Wednesday, October 16, 2019. This is the second interview.
MR. MARMON: Good morning, Judge Burnett.
JUDGE BURNETT: Good morning, Mr. Marmon.
MR. MARMON: We’re going to start this session with your work after you got out of the
Army with Robert F. Kennedy. So if you could tell us how that
connection was made and what you did for Robert Kennedy.
JUDGE BURNETT: In January of 1961, I was assigned to the General Crimes Section of the
Criminal Division, which dealt with issues of government corruption and
organized crime, Jimmy Hoffa, the Labor Movement, and related issues.
On January 21, 1961 I was approached in my office by a representative of
the Assistant Attorney General, Herbert J. Miller, and told that the
Attorney General wanted to see me. I reported to the Office of the
Attorney General and met with him personally. He advised me that he had
checked my background and college and law school records and my
personal history and said that he wanted me to be his personal assistant.
He told me he wanted me to work with him and the Deputy Attorney
General, Byron R. White, to monitor the Civil Rights Movement and the
FBI to make sure that its agents would not engage in any unlawful law
enforcement practices. He emphasized that I would be reading FBI
reports for him and that I was to advise him of the important things in
them, and he emphatically stated that I could only disclose what I read to
him, the Deputy Attorney General Byron R. White, and the President of
the United States what I read, especially any information that was
classified as secret or confidential. He stressed that I could not even tell
my wife what I read. He swore me to these obligations. He also stressed
with me that the FBI would be monitoring me to make sure I made no
unauthorized disclosures. I responded that I understood the obligations
and would be most careful to obey them.
Shortly thereafter the position of Deputy Chief of the General
Crimes Section became vacant, and I was made Acting Deputy Chief of
the General Crimes Section as well as the representative of the Section to
keep Robert Kennedy aware of all significant matters dealt with by the
General Crimes Section. In that capacity, it was my duty to keep the
Attorney General advised of all the major government corruption criminal
cases and activities involving organized crime, United Mine Workers,
Jimmy Hoffa’s activities and other major cases. I ended up serving not
only as his confidential assistant to monitor the Martin Luther King
movement, but sitting in on the weekly meetings which he had with the
Section Chiefs of all the various sections of the Criminal Division of the
U.S. Department of Justice.
During that time, there were allegations made that in the State of
Maryland, senior citizens and gullible people were investing in two
savings and loan associations, First Colony Savings and Loan and First
Continental Savings and Loan, headed by J. Kenneth Edlin and William
L. Robinson, who was their General Counsel. Allegations were made in
the Press that these individuals were engaging in mail and wire fraudulent
activities. Allegations were also being made that Congressman Thomas F.
Johnson and Frank W. Boykin were trying to persuade President Kennedy
and the Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to intervene and make sure
that Joseph Tydings, who was the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore, was not
investigating the matter to bring charges against these two congressmen
and the Savings and Loan operators of mail and wire fraud and
government corruption in order to advance his own political ambition to
become a United States Senator, but really that he had a bona fide case
against these savings and loan operators for mail and wire fraud and the
congressmen for government corruption, for conflicts of interest and
possibly for bribery.
Robert Kennedy asked me to review the grand jury testimony and
the FBI investigative reports to make sure that Joseph Tydings was doing
his duty and not using this event as a means to enhance or advance his
own political ambitions.
At that time, Byron White, was the Deputy Attorney General and
he sat in on this meeting. I read the entire grand jury testimony as well as
the FBI reports, and on a week starting on a Monday, we met in the
Attorney General’s Office with Joseph Tydings and one or two of his
Assistant U.S. Attorneys from Maryland, and Robert Kennedy had me
summarize, like a prosecutor, in an opening statement to a jury in a
criminal case of what the evidence showed against J. Kenneth Edlin and
William L. Robinson that wire fraud and mail fraud was being perpetrated
against unsuspected members of the public as well as conflicts of interest
violation and conspiracy by the two Congressmen to prevent criminal
prosecution of J. Kenneth Edlin and William L. Robinson. For two-and-ahalf days, I summarized the evidence that had been presented to the grand
jury and what was in the FBI reports. Well, Joseph D. Tydings sat on the
side of the room much like this one just listening. Robert Kennedy was
sitting behind his desk with Bryon White sitting by his side. I made a twoand-a-half day opening statement summarizing the significant evidence.
When I finished, the stark reality was that Robert Kennedy stood, even
kind of faltered a little bit. He said, “Arthur, you have convinced me. We
have no choice but to go forward with prosecution of these men. He then
with tears in his eyes said Frank Boykin who was like an uncle to him. He
said in a haltering voice, “He was my father’s closest friend.” With tears
running down his face from his eyes to the edges of his lips, he said, “We
have no choice but to go forward with and prosecute, otherwise the
Kennedy administration may have a scandal on its hands, much like the
Tea Pot Dome scandal. To face and defend against. “You have saved us
from that scandal, and I’m appointing you special prosecutor in this case
with Joe Tydings.”
I ended up being assigned Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the
State of Maryland by Robert Kennedy to prosecute Thomas F. Johnson,
from the Eighth Congressional District of Maryland, and Frank W.
Boykin, who was the dean of the Alabama Congressional delegation.
Congressman Boykin was represented by the noted Edward Bennett
One of the most difficult aspects of that case was an event one
morning during the trial in which Congressman, Boykin came over to me
and said, “Boy, you’ve got guts to prosecute me. If we were in Alabama,
you couldn’t even come into federal court as a lawyer. And I said to him,
“You are the defendant in this case and we are in Maryland and not in
Alabama. The Attorney General has appointed me to prosecute this case,
and that is what I am going to do, and your lawyer, Edward Bennett
Williams, should be the one talking to me and not you. If you talk to me
again, I’ll bring the matter to the attention of Judge Roszel C. Thomsen,
the presiding judge in this trial, to deal with you.” He never spoke to me
again after that encounter.
We tried the case in about a 10 – 11-weeks trial, Monday through
Thursday. Judge Roszel C. Thomsen reserved Fridays to deal with his
motion matters and other administrative functions. The jury convicted
Tom Johnson, Frank Boykin, J. Kenneth Edlin, and William Robinson of
all the counts in the indictment.
Then, of course, an appeal was taken. Congressman Thomas F.
Johnson filed an appeal claiming that the indictment and the trial had
included evidence of his actions in the United States Congress as to
statements he had made protecting savings and loans association in
Maryland which was in violation of the Constitution’s protection of the
speech and debate clause to what Members of Congress did in the
Congress. Joseph Tydings had left the position as United States Attorney
to run in the primary to be elected to the U.S. Senate. I became chief
counsel and wrote the brief for the government on appeal and argued the
case in Richmond, Virginia, before the United States. Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit as the lead lawyer for the United States Congressman
Frank W. Boykin did not appeal. He had only received a $40,000 fine and
was not sentenced to any confinement to prison. J. Kenneth Edlin and
William Robinson did not appeal. Congressman Johnson was the only
defendant who appealed and the question was whether the Speech and
Debate Clause of the United States Constitution precluded the Executive
Branch from bringing criminal charges against a member of Congress for
what he or she does in Congress.
When I got up to argue the case before Judge Simon Sobeloff, the
Chief Judge and the two other judges on the Panel, when I opened my
mouth to speak, no words could come out. My vocal cords were frozen. I
remember Simon Sobeloff saying, “Mr. Burnett, we know you are a young
lawyer, but we’re not going to eat you. Just relax and tell us what the
government’s position is.” I exhaled. I then made the argument, and the
case was taken under advisement. The Fourth Circuit agreed with
Congressman Thomas Johnson’s argument that the indictment and trial
had included congressional matters he had performed and should not have
done so, and that under the Speech and Debate Clause in the Constitution
of the United States, it was inappropriate. They concluded that this
affected his conviction on all the counts in the indictment involving him.
The Government then sought review in the United States Supreme Court.
I was not involved in that processed. After argument, the majority on the
Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. Three Justices
dissented and asserted that the Speech and Debate Clause was meant to
immunize Members of Congress only for the content of what they said in
Congress from libel and defamation suits and not other conduct. This
decision in the Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit’s reversal of
Thomas Johnson’s conviction, and his case was sent back to the U.S.
District Court in Maryland for a retrial. At that point, I was no longer
involved. Steve Sachs, who had been an Assistant U.S. Attorney, had
become the United States. Attorney. He prosecuted Tom Johnson a
second time, and he was again convicted of his interference in the savings
and loans matter in connections with contacts with Robert Kennedy and
others in the Administration in trying to persuade the Department of
Justice not to prosecute J. Kenneth Edlin and William L. Robinson for
their endeavors to persuade senior citizens and others to invest in the two
Savings and Loan Associations they operated.
That was one of the most remarkable experiences I had in my life
in addition to monitoring the Martin Luther King movement and serving
as a GS-15 Deputy Chief when I was only a GS-11 and then GS-12. I
think I eventually got to be a GS-13 before I left the United States
Department of Justice and transferred to the United States. Attorney’s
Office in the District of Columbia.
The other most startling and significant event in my professional
career while an attorney with the United States Department of Justice was
the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. About
five (5) minutes after word got out that President Kennedy had been shot,
Robert Kennedy called for me. He said, “Arthur, I want you here with me
today. My Brother, the President, has been shot and killed, and I might
get too emotional. I want you here with me and to speak for me. I want
you to be the voice on the phone to tell the United States. Attorney and the
FBI what to do with reference to this shooting of my brother, the
President.” I was to tell him what was in the calls that came in and what
he wanted done and then I on the phone would speak for hm. You might
say I ended up acting as his Puppet” in de facto acting and speaking for
him as Attorney General, with him sitting at his desk and me being the
puppet on the phone directing Barefoot Sanders, the United States
Attorney who later became a United States District Court Judge, and the
FBI what the Attorney General wanted done. Then between 2:00 and 3:00
a.m., he said, “Arthur, you have been here with me all day, call your wife
and have her come pick you up. Get a couple hours of sleep.” My wife
picked me up at Constitution Avenue entrance, the main assess to the
Attorney General’s office. I went home and went to bed about 3:00 a.m.
or shortly thereafter. My wife woke me up about five minutes before
10:00 a.m. and said the radio indicated that a man named Jack Ruby had
gotten in to the jail compound and where Lee Harvey Oswald was being
detained and had killed him. I have often wondered, and I still wonder
today, had I not gone home, and was still on the telephone in the Attorney
General’s office, could have detected something and could have provided
guidance to the FBI which would have directed the FBI to have taken
steps which would have prevented Jack Ruby from obtaining assess to Lee
Harvey Oswald to have killed him before we could have learned a lot
more from him.
MR. MARMON: Interesting. Did you continue to work with Robert Kennedy?
JUDGE BURNETT: I continued to work for Robert Kennedy until he decided to leave and run
for the United States Senate for the state of New York. But what I have
told you were the two most significant events in my relationship with
Robert Kennedy and by work with him at the United States Department of
Justice. Later I was told by Joseph Tydings and others that Robert
Kennedy already prior to the November assassination of John F. Kennedy
to introduce me the President in person and take me to the White House,
and to interview me with the possibility of putting me on a Federal District
Court as a judge.
MR. MARMON: You had an appointment?
JUDGE BURNETT: I was told later that there was a notation in the papers of President
Kennedy about scheduling me for an interview with him. That was later
when people were interviewing me about my history and they would say
are you aware that the papers at the White House made a reference to you?
I then responded that I had no prior knowledge that such an appointment
had been arranged for me to meet President Kennedy in person, I was not
aware of that arrangement until they told me about it.
MR. MARMON: Going back to your work with the Civil Rights Movement with Martin
Luther King and so forth, were you aware that the FBI was taping Martin
Luther King?
JUDGE BURNETT: I’m not sure I should answer that, but I can say yes, I was aware of the
taping, but I cannot tell you the contents.
MR. MARMON: Okay. You said you were on the Mall during the March on Washington?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes, I was on the mall in Washington in August of 1963. My wife was
ready to deliver our third child, our second son, and I was on the Mall as
eyes of the Administration. Robert Kennedy said to me, “Arthur, I want
you on the Mall to observe to protect against any riots or unrest. I was to
pretend to be a supporter of Martin Luther King and tag along with his
group of supporters. I was to make sure that if any signs of unrest or riots
were about to occur, I was to contact him so that we could get the
marshals, the National Guard, or military out there to quell any
disturbance or other unlawful conduct.” I was to pretend to be a tag along
with Martin Luther King’s group so no one would be suspicious of me but
to leave discretely around 10:00 p.m. at night to go home and get some
sleep and not to sleep with them so that people would not discover who I
was and my role. I woke up early in order to be back on the Mall about
6:30 to 7:00 a.m. and kind of hung around in the crowd just watching and
listening to make sure we would have no unlawful rioting or other
criminal activity.
During the balance of the time that Robert Kennedy was there, I
still was liaison for the Criminal Division to keep him advised of all the
major cases and other matters of sufficient importance to be brought to his
MR. MARMON: Did you follow other activities of Martin Luther King?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. Just the visit here to Washington and the surveillance of the reports.
MR. MARMON: Later you got an award from the United States Department of Justice?
JUDGE BURNETT: In 1963 as a result of my work in the Congressman Thomas F. Johnson
and Frank Boykin case and my work with the Attorney General in other
matters I received the Sustained Superior Performance Award of the
Attorney General for the liaison work I did with him.
MR. MARMON: Say again what the nature of the award was.
JUDGE BURNETT: Sustained Superior Performance Award.
MR. MARMON: When did you leave the Justice Department?
JUDGE BURNETT: When Robert Kennedy indicated he was going to leave the Department of
Justice to run for the United States Senate, I applied to the U.S. Attorney’s
Office in Washington, D.C. to transfer from the Main Justice to become a
full-time trial attorney. In April of 1965, the officials in the United States
Attorney’s Office said they had room for me to transfer over to that
Office. I left the Criminal Division of the United States Department in
April of 1965 and became an Assistant U.S. Attorney. I was assigned to
rotate through the various sections of the United States Attorney’s Office,
and then the Grand Jury, and then the Appellate Section, and eventually
was assigned as a senior prosecutor based on my background at the Justice
Department to take over cases of other prosecutors when they were
already tied up in a trail and another of their assigned cases was ready. I
recall in the course of that rotation, I tried 83 felony cases. A couple of
times, I had two or three cases being deliberated on by a jury at the same
time. I was as a metaphor the prosecutor on roller skates, between trial of
MR. MARMON: Wow. How long did you stay in that job?
JUDGE BURNETT: I was there from April of 1965 until December of 1968. I’m not sure if it
was in November or early December 1968, I was contacted and advised
that the Metropolitan Police Department was considering hiring an inhouse lawyer as Legal Adviser to deal with the aftermath of the riots and
property destruction which had occurred in the District of Columbia
following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, 1968. I had
several people approach me and asked me to consider applying for that job
in view of my personal civil rights background and experience at the
United States Department of Justice and in the United States Attorney’s
Office. I applied for that position and was selected as the Legal Adviser
for the Metropolitan Police Department, as the first such Office in the
Police Department, and is now called General Counsel of the Department.
I there worked directly with the Chief of Police in preparing proposed
testimony for him and General and Special Orders to govern the conduct
of police officers in law enforcement, and served as special counsel to
investigators of homicide, sex offenses and robbery cases, and in
educating these investigators what they needed in affidavits for arrest and
search warrants so that they would not be challenged in court as
MR. MARMON: For the District of Columbia government?
JUDGE BURNETT: For the District of Columbia government. I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office
in December of 1968 to become the “Legal Advisor” to the police
department to make sure that it would avoid police brutality complaints. It
would respect civil rights and constitutional rights of residents of the
District of Columbia and others in the city. Indeed, some Officers thought
I should be called the Squad Car Lawyer and there was talk of even giving
me a Police Car and the authority of having a gun like a Detective, but that
never materialized. The title of the position was later changed to “General
I had planned to be there for three to five years. However in late
February or early March I received a call from a judge of the District
Court for the District of Columbia advising me that the Court had been
selected to be a pilot court to establish a new United States Magistrate
system as assistant to Federal Judges, and that based on my experience
they would like me to consider applying for one of the two positions being
created in that court. I discussed it with my wife and its impact on our
family life and children, and the time it might involve with reference to me
having time for my family, but I convinced her that in time it could lead to
a higher judicial office and greater pay, and was appointed the first
African-American United States Magistrate in the United States and was
sworn in and entered on duty June 26, 1969. I applied and was appointed
a U.S. Magistrate, it did not have attached to it the word judge at that
point, in June of 1969. Congress later amended the Federal Magistrates’
Act to add the name so that persons holding these positions are now called
United States Magistrate Judges.
MR. MARMON: Before we get to that, I want to go back to be sure we’ve covered any
notable activities with the D.C. metro police.
JUDGE BURNETT: Basically my role in the police department was primarily to assist the
Chief of Police and prepare his testimony before congressional
committees or responding to requests for information from the Mayor and
being available to advise the homicide squad, the robbery and sex squads
on the course of their investigations to make solid cases and not make
mistakes and arrest wrong people and so forth. So I became the kind of
in-house lawyer to oversee the operation of the special sections of the
police department to make sure they made valid cases and did not arrest
the wrong people and in their investigations they would go out and arrest
the right person for the crime. So I became the lead advisor to the
specialty departments in the police department to improve the quality of
their investigations and their work.
MR. MARMON: Who was the Mayor at this time?
JUDGE BURNETT: Walter Washington.
MR. MARMON: Who was Chief of Police?
JUDGE BURNETT: John Layton. And after John Layton, there was Jerry Wilson and
thereafter Maurice Cullinane became chief of police. I interacted with all
three of them in the brief period of time I was with the Metropolitan Police
MR. MARMON: Were there any particular big issues that happened during that period?
JUDGE BURNETT: The Chief of Police and later Chiefs Wilson and Cullinane went ahead
with my advice, and police operations proceeded smoothly. There were
no complaints of police brutality or civil rights violations or misconduct
during that time and transitions in the Metropolitan Police Department.
I was appointed as a magistrate judge in the federal court June 26,
1969. The U.S. District Court here in D.C. was one of five (5) federal
district courts in the country selected to be pilot programs to start up the
operation of the magistrate system. At that point, Judge John Sirica was
chief judge of the court. Judge George Hart was the backup and became
Acting Chief Judge, and Oliver Gasch became the Chair of the committee
overseeing the Magistrates’ position and developing of the scope of duties
the magistrates would perform. The three of them counseled me.
Magistrate Burnett was my title at that point. They said that they wanted
me and then Magistrate John Doyle to be innovative urged the two of us
be leaders to establish what roles magistrates should play in the federal
court system by way of functions and responsibilities and showing how
we could relieve federal district court judges to be more in the courtroom
actually trying cases as much as possible. So they started by sending to us
habeas corpus petitions in which convicted defendants would be filing
papers claiming they were wrongly convicted. As a result of that project, I
came up with the idea of contacting the law schools to tell their law
students that there were opportunities for “internship positions” with us
magistrates with reference to constitutional issues, due process, and
validity of their conviction. I also, because of my academic background,
was introduced to former Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark who had been
retired from the United States Supreme Court and then was the Director of
the Federal Judicial Center and the staff of the Administrative Office of
the United States Courts in charge of supporting the administrative
functions needed by the new United States Magistrate. I was made pretty
much the liaison Magistrate of the five (5) pilot programs with the Federal
Judicial Center and the Magistrate’s Division of the Administrative Office
of the United States Courts to develop standards for affidavits for arrest
and especially search warrants as to the required specificity and factual
basis to comply with the United States Supreme Court decisions and
requirements for corroboration and establishing the reliability of
informants. I became very much the scholar authority and liaison for the
five federal district courts in the country on the warrant function, including
Eastern Virginia, Kansas, San Diego, and San Francisco, California and
consulted with my magistrates in those federal districts whenever they had
questions and served as the lecturer on these issues whenever we had
training sessions in those early years.
MR. MARMON: Tell me again what this program was?
JUDGE BURNETT: This was a program of developing quality standards for how magistrates
would function and what functions magistrates could take on to relieve
federal district judges’ chambers work and the quality of handling federal
criminal cases in the courts of the United States which commenced with
arrest and search warrants. Other functions included handling pretrial
matters and motions. Where the magistrate did not have the authority to
decide the matter, the magistrate could submit “reports and
recommendations on how the matter should be handled or decided.” The
federal courts developed rules which say that a judge may refer such
matters and the magistrate should review the matter and submit a report
and recommendation, which would be filed as part of the record, and if the
lawyers did not file any objections, the judge may then approve the report
and recommendation. If they disagree with the magistrate’s position, then
they can ask for a hearing before the district court. So the system was one
where under rules of the district court, the magistrate’s recommended
decision and it would become the ruling of the district court automatically
unless a lawyer did not agree with the report and recommendation, in
which case the judge would hear the lawyers and decide the matter.
During this time period the Watergate scandal developed involving
President Richard Nixon and Chief Judge John Sirica assigned handling
the matter to himself, and designated me to handle some pretrial discovery
matters in potential criminal cases, and issues that would arise in his
assigned civil cases. I would review issues of pretrial discovery in the
Watergate cases and urged him to issue an Order tor disclosures as to the
missing 18 minutes of recording on the tapes which was not there and I
handled issues arising in his entire Civil Cases Calendar. In his civil cases
I would review matters which arose and make reports and
recommendations which were sent to Judge George Hart for review, and
he told me that unless he was convinced that the Court of Appeals would
reverse the recommended ruling, he would approve my recommended
rulings. For several months we followed this practice and I am not aware
that he disagreed with my recommended rulings in such cases until the
Watergate cases ended with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the
resulting criminal cases in the United States District Court for the District
of Columbia.
MR. MARMON: And before that?
JUDGE BURNETT: Before that, the process did not exist. Before then, they had been court
commissioners which basically just issued warrants, set bail and handled
preliminary hearings but did not have the broad role of being assistants to
federal district judges in handling a broad scope of pretrial matters in both
criminal and civil cases.
MR. MARMON: You were the first black to be appointed?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes, of the five pilot programs in the jurisdiction, two magistrates were
appointed here. One was me, and the other was John Doyle, a Caucasian
man about fifteen years or more my senior. Of magistrates appointed in
the five jurisdictions, I was the only African-American.
MR. MARMON: What about in the whole system?
JUDGE BURNETT: At that point, the pilot programs were the first ones. Other courts had not
even started the magistrate system. We were the initial courts set up to
establish the contours of the functions of the system.
MR. MARMON: I see. Before that there were just commissioners.
JUDGE BURNETT: Right. Commissioners who dealt with petty offenses like traffic matters in
national parks, issued arrest and search warrants, and set bail and
conducted preliminary hearings to refer cases to the grand jury. Other
courts did not have magistrates. The system was just beginning to
establish the positions in the years that followed. So I was on the cutting
edge and basically ended up being the liaison to the Federal Judicial
Center and the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in
establishing a guidebook for how the magistrate system would even work.
I worked directly with Retired Justice Thomas Clark, and with then his
successor, Senior Judge Walter Hoffman from the Eastern District Court
system in Virginia in establishing the criteria or standards for search
warrants and for affidavits for arrest warrants, for preliminary hearings,
for compliance with the Bail Reform Act that Congress had enacted, and
for review of motions with reference to alleged invalid and wrongful
convictions arising in, habeas corpus proceedings. As a result of that
process, and the volume of habeas corpus proceedings we were getting
alleging wrongful convictions, I contacted the various law schools in the
Washington, D.C. area and advised their professors that magistrates did
not have law clerks at that time, Congress had not authorized law clerks
for magistrate at that time. I suggested and recommended that such an
exposure would enhance their law school education process and they
agreed, and started having law students perform the judicial law clerks did
for federal district court judges. I suggested to the law professors having
some of their law students in their second or third year getting some
clinical experience serving in a role like law clerks for district judges, and
especially for magistrates handling habeas corpus matters, and this led to
the American Bar Association creating the law clerkship program to have
law students come to its mid-year meetings and advised of the program in
the magistrates’ system and given guidance on how to thereafter apply for
and receive judicial clerkships with United States District and Appellate
Court judges and State Court Judges throughout the entire United States.
I subsequently became a lead lecturer in the ABA Judicial Clerkship
program for several years. In implementing the judicial law internship
program, I had the law students who volunteered to serve with me as a
magistrate sit in on the actual court proceeding have them sit in on
programs where judges will incorporate their written material into
magistrate reports and recommendations going to federal judges on issues
pending in a case. Thus, the program I developed gave law students onsite exposure, like a hospital resident training while still in law school. I
recall one summer having 17 interns while a magistrate in the United
States District Court and the judges would call and ask whether they could
borrow an intern on a problem pending before them in the course of
running the internship program in the United District Court for the District
of Columbia. So you might say in that sense, I was the instigator of
convincing the American Bar Association to set up the Judicial Clerkship
Program for the entire country.
Then later, after the pilot program had been in existence for a
while Congress provide authority and money was appropriated funds for
full-time magistrate judges to hire one full-time judicial law clerk.
Going back to a previous reason for sitting up the Magistrate
system was the problem of the issuance of arrest and search warrants. One
of the major problems in the federal court system was that commissioners
were accused of just being rubber stamps for law enforcement officers and
there was substantial time devoted in trial and appellate courts to dealing
with compliance in the adequacy of affidavits in warrants in federal cases.
Counsel would argue that commissioners would sign any piece of paper
police officers brought in without scrutinizing the factual content. They
wanted a review of Supreme Court case law standards of what was
required to be implemented by the magistrates and the standards more
effectively applied. They wanted the magistrate system to refine and
establish the system and build a system for the quality of warrants being
issued to eliminate the case load of challenged arrest and search warrants
throughout the entire system. As a result of that concern I became a
leading expert for the magistrate system in the issuance of warrants and
was also invited to become a teacher at the National Judicial College for
State Court judges as well, and for ten (10) years, from 1970 to 1980, I
was one of the two key faculty instructors for the National Judicial
College, even teaching state judges on how to meet standards, for meeting
Supreme Court case law standards. They had learned of my expertise
through my work in the American Bar Association in implementing the
operation of the United States Magistrates’ system. So I became a leader
in perfecting the quality of arrest and search warrants for the entire nation.
MR. MARMON: Also I gather you recommended that the magistrate’s opinions be sort of
like that of a federal judge, binding?
JUDGE BURNETT: Actually, before we get to that issue, we had another big innovation, I
wish to discuss, and that was the so-called preliminary hearing. In many
instances, the practice had been that the government put on its evidence
through the investigating officer who recited a lot of hearsay as to what
others told him or her. I resisted the United States Attorney just using us
as rubber stamps and urged that in cases where a defendant is accused of
rape, or especially if the woman was a prostitute or a sex worker, the
defendant is entitled to present evidence showing consent, or in a
homicide case, showing self-defense. The U.S. Attorney filed a
Mandamus against me for taking this legal position which went to the
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on the
scope of a preliminary hearing. Judge Spottswood Robinson wrote an
opinion, more than a hundred pages in length, which upheld my legal
position, especially since the implemented the Bail Reform Act enacted by
Congress required the magistrate to consider the quality of the evidence
against the accused. The Court ruled that the magistrate should have the
authority to allow defense to show the quality of the evidence and
therefore allowed defense counsel to present at the preliminary hearing
evidence showing the strength of the prosecutor case and to present direct
testimony at the preliminary hearing in a sex offense case, or in a
homicide case involving self-defense, or in a narcotics case involving
undercover buys of narcotics where there are discrepancies as to the
description of the seller offender That case is Coleman v. Burnett, 477
F.2d 1187 (D.C. Cir. 1973).
I was mandamus in a famous case, Coleman v. Burnett, Burnett
being me as a respondent. Spottswood Robinson wrote the opinion, and
ultimately, the U.S. Conference for the entire system, headed by the chief
justice or the United States Supreme Court, I am told adopted the
principles of that opinion for the operation of the entire federal court
system. So the preliminary hearing is not just a rubber stamp for what the
police officers testify, but the defense is entitled to present evidence
showing weakness or compromising circumstances where it could affect
the quality under the Bail Reform Act and other acts or potential defense
the accused may have in connection with the criminal case.
I also led the effort in implementing the Bail Reform Act enacted
by the Congress, and indeed developed a system in which when
defendants appeared before me in court, and I issued a pretrial release
order which would also say that even if you’re guilty, compliance with
these conditions may impact your sentence, and if you comply with the
requirements of this Bail Release Order, have a fixed residence, maintain
employment, and not commit a criminal offense while on release, the
federal district judge may take your compliance into consideration in
determining your sentence, and therefore you should not recidivate or
commit crimes while on bail.
I indeed served on a national commission of a group of doctors and
lawyers under the supervision of Chief Justice Shirley Abramson, of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court, a well-recognized state Supreme Court jurist,
and I came out with the recommendation that district court judges here in
D.C. say if the judge put you on pretrial release, the quality of your
compliance with those conditions will impact the decision on what
sentence you might get or whether you even get probation. If you can’ not
comply with bail conditions, what reason do I have to believe you will
comply with conditions of probation.
Based on such considerations I developed that process of basically
implementing the Bail Reform Act of 1966 and conditions and including
in the order of bail release that alleged violations may be considered by
the Federal District Court judge in sentencing if you are determined to be
guilty. As a result of that approach, I had a record of people not
committing crimes while on bail release or violating condition of pretrial
MR. MARMON: Broadening your scope of preliminary hearings in homicide, rape, and
undercover narcotics cases, what you were just talking about, and now the
other thing is convincing Congress in opposition to the Department of
Justice, what was that?.
JUDGE BURNETT: That was a development with reference to civil cases which later occurred.
It dealt with magistrate judges trying civil cases with consent of the parties
functioning as substitute district judges.
MR. MARMON: Let’s go ahead and talk about that.
JUDGE BURNETT: Well actually in 1975, I got a call from the President of the Unified Bar of
D.C. and a fellow named Carl Goodman, who was the general counsel of
the Civil Service Commission, asked me whether or not I could
recommend anyone who was Black or Negro or Colored to be the legal
advisor for the civil service system. After ten or fifteen minutes of
discussions, they said, Magistrate Burnett, what about you. I said well I
enjoy being a magistrate. They said, but you have three or four kids, and
this job will give you a salary increase of about $25,000 or more a year,
you will be historically the first Black Legal Advisor for the entire civil
service system and you are young enough to return to the bench as a judge
So I went home and discussed it with my wife, and she said yes,
because you’re so busy as a magistrate I’m raising these kids alone. In
this new job you will have other attorneys working for you. She stated
that she had been thinking about whether she should go back to California
and have her family help raise these children. So reluctantly, I resigned as
a magistrate in 1975 and became the legal adviser with the title, Assistant
General Counsel for legal advice, much like a Solicitor General, for the
entire Executive Branch of the U.S. government, with about a $25,000
increase in salary.
MR. MARMON: What about this issue of giving a magistrate power to substitute for a trial
court judge?
JUDGE BURNETT: I’ll get to that. In this position as legal advisor to the civil service system,
I was also a member of the Federal Bar Association. The Federal Bar
Association appointed me to serve as its Chair of its Committee
overseeing the magistrate system. When proposed legislature came up
later while I was at the Civil Service Commission, they asked me to testify
before the Congress on a proposal to give magistrates authority to try civil
cases. It was then that I, not as a magistrate, but as a lawyer with the Civil
Service Commission, but representing the Federal Bar Association, that I
testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee headed by Senator Ted
Kennedy. Strom Thurmond was the chief Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee. Griffin Bell testified that the Justice Department did
not object to giving magistrates, although they didn’t even have the title of
judge at that point, the authority to try cases. Attorney General Griffin
Bell that the Department of Justice did not object to giving magistrates the
authority to try civil cases, if a party did not like the result before the
magistrate, and could get a de novo trial before a district court judge.
Then I was called as a witness after Attorney Griffin Bell had completed
his testimony and stated as a former magistrate representing the Federal
Bar Association that I was elated to see the Justice Department approved
giving magistrates the power to try civil cases, but it would impose an
inordinate financial burden on litigants to have two trials in the district
court and the time that would be involved in a second trial. I further
testified that magistrates, if they act on basis of consent of the lawyers,
will in fact be less arbitrary or less dogmatic than federal district court
judges because they want to encourage consents, so they are going to be
middle of the road or bend over backward being fair and reasonable in
their rulings and courtroom manner. I further stressed that magistrates
will want to become district court judges and exercise their best abilities to
be fair, reasonable and correct in their decisions. Many of them will want
to become federal district judges or judges in the courts of appeal and
exercise their best judicial temperament, manner and overall judgment
When I finished testifying, both Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator
Strom Thurmond made eloquent statements saying what Mr. Burnett, had
suggested to them made persuasive sense. The Senate Judiciary
Committee adopted the approach I advocated over the position of the
Attorney General and the United States Department of Justice, thus
allowing civil trials before United States magistrates sitting as substitute
district judges in such a case where counsel and the parties had consented
to trial before the magistrate, with the right to a direct appeal to the Court
of Appeals as if the magistrate, with the party’s consent had acted as if he
or she were a district court judge.
MR. MARMON: Bell’s position was there should be a de novo.
JUDGE BURNETT: With a magistrate decision, under Attorney General Griffin Bell’s
testimony, if one party or the other was unhappy with the result before the
magistrate, that party could get a new complete trial before a district court
judge and thus resulting in two trials in the district court before going to a
court of appeals. So I prevailed on that issue and even got praised by
Senator Strom Thurmond. At that time, I was a lawyer with the Civil
Service Commission as its legal advisor a not a magistrate in the court
Further down the road, in 1979 then Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson
called me and told me that Henry Kennedy who had replaced me as
magistrate had been appointed to the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia, and inquired if I was interested in coming back as magistrate
again. In that Congress had enacted legislation to permit magistrates to try
civil cases and had also substantially increased the salary level for
magistrates to 90 percent of a district judges’ salary rather than the initial
sum of 75 percent, I reapplied for the vacancy and was appointed the
second time to the position of magistrate in the United States District
Court for the District of Columbia in January 1980.
MR. MARMON: What about expanding of the practice to be able to handle pretrial motions
and use of settlement conferences in civil cases?
JUDGE BURNETT: In addition, basically that was considered a function that magistrates could
exercise even before they broadened the statute. The district court had had
a position called pretrial examiner where they could use a pretrial
examiner to handle pretrial conferences and do a pretrial order in civil
cases. That was a function before the magistrate system existed. The
Court had a gentleman named Mr. John Finn who had been pretrial
examiner even before the magistrate’s system was established. The
district continued referring civil cases to him even after the magistrate’s
system was started with the magistrates only initially handling criminal
matters. It was sometime later in the use of magistrates, the judges started
referring civil matters to the magistrates and the Pretrial Examiner’s
position was phased out. The Court had me go to the U.S. District Court
in the Southern District of New York for several days because the
Southern District of New York had an extensive practice of referring civil
cases to a magistrate for purposes of seeing if the magistrate could get
settlement, establishing how to establish comprehensive pretrial orders,
what issues were presented, what documents be produced, what witnesses
are going to be identified, and testify, and other matters which might arise
in the course of the civil trial. Thus I had the experience of sitting in the
Southern District of New York federal court several days to learn its
system and to put it into operation in the United States District Court for
the District of Columbia.
MR. MARMON: In 1980 you went back into magistrate court. Why don’t you talk about
that period?
JUDGE BURNETT: I went back as a magistrate. The position was still called magistrate.
Congress did not add to the tile of the position “Judge” until the late 1980s
after I had been appointed to the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia in November 1987. Following my return in January 1980
during that time, district court judges were looking for ways to expand the
usage of magistrates because of the press of criminal trials and mandatory
limits for defendants being held without bail or on pretrial detention to be
brought to trial. I want to say this politely, referring civil cases to the
magistrates tremendously increased so that they could be on the bench
trying criminal cases with statutory deadlines and speedy trial issues. The
district court judges referred more and more civil cases for discovery
supervision, hearing on motions, pretrial and settlement conferences.
During this period of time the civil case work became more predominant
than the handling of criminal case matters. Lawyers even increasingly
began to consent to civil trials before the magistrates on the merits. As a
result I as a magistrate presided at the trial of civil cases in 13 civil cases,
more than any district judge that calendar year. When 1985 came I ended
up trying thirteen (13) civil cases on the merits than any district court did
that year. This fact was documented in my testimony before the Senate
Governmental Affairs Committee when I was appointed to Superior Court
and testified in my confirmation hearing. A listing of the cases was
provided and submitted for the Committee’s record. I had the record of
trying thirteen civil trials in 1985 in the role of a district court judge and
more than any district court judge on the District Court tried that year.
MR. MARMON: Great. We’re going to go back to when you were an assistant to Judge
Sirica during Watergate.
JUDGE BURNETT: As a matter of fact, when I was assistant to John Sirica, he turned over his
entire civil calendar to me so he could focus exclusively on Watergate
cases and all the issues arriving in that matter. He also referred to me and
asked for my views on some criminal justice discovery matters. In the
course of looking at pretrial discovery matters, I raised with him an issue
of a missing gap in the tapes and he should issue an order requiring
President Nixon and the Watergate people to produce information
concerning how that missing gap of 18 minutes in the tape came about.
He did so, and that led to President Nixon’s resignation.
MR. MARMON: Wow. And you were acting as a magistrate then?
JUDGE BURNETT: That’s right. I was acting as a magistrate then. Not only in criminal
matters, but he turned over his entire civil calendar for me to review and
submit reports and recommendations. I didn’t have authority to decide
ultimately what we would do, and unless he got objections, he would sign
the order as acting chief judge.
MR. MARMON: What period was that?
JUDGE BURNETT: That was between 1969 to 1975. That would have been the time before I
transferred in December of 1975 to the United States Civil Service
MR. MARMON: Between your two stints as magistrate. We’ll talk about that the next time.
JUDGE BURNETT: Okay. The situation was later on when I went back and became a judge,
Jule Sugarman, who was Vice Chair originally of the Civil Service
Commission, was getting married. He later asked me as a Superior Court
Judge to perform his marriage ceremony and we remain friends until his
Oral History of Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr.
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is William Marmon and the interviewee
is Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. The interview took place at the home of William Marmon on
Thursday, October 24, 2019. This is the third interview.
MR. MARMON: Good morning, Judge.
JUDGE BURNETT: Good morning.
MR. MARMON: Today we’re going to talk about two periods in your life. One, the period
where you were active in the United States Civil Service Commission, and
since we already covered in the last session your six years as a federal
magistrate, then we’re going to go directly to your period as a judge in the
D.C. Superior Court. So let’s start with the United States Civil Service
Commission. Can you give us the background of how you got into that
and what you did and the dates thereof?
JUDGE BURNETT: Very well. In the fall of 1975, I was called by a gentleman named Fred
Abramson, who was the President of the District of Columbia Unified Bar,
and in the course of the conversation, he introduced me to a gentleman
named Carl Goodman, who was the General Counsel of the United States
Civil Service Commission, and said they were looking for a person who
was of color for the position of Assistant General Counsel in charge of
Legal Advisory Section of the General Counsel’s Office to issue advisory
opinions on what the civil service system would require, but also be
consistent with equal employment opportunities requirements. For
perhaps five to ten minutes we talked generally and I mentioned a few
names. At that point they asked me would I be interested in the position in
view of my academic achievement and professional experience as a
judicial officer functioning as a magistrate. I hesitantly paused and
reflected and said I was happy doing the legal work of a magistrate in the
federal court and that I thoroughly enjoyed the nature of the work and the
challenges and it could lead to me being appointed as a federal district
court judge. I note that at that time Congress had not amended the
legislation dealing with magistrates to add the title “judge.” That change
in title did not occur until the late 1980s. They said well you are young
enough to become a federal judge as, you are in your early 40s. I
responded that I had just turned 40 earlier that year and paused and said let
me think about it.
Well at the same time, my wife and I had five children. My wife
had been complaining that I was so busy as a magistrate bringing work
home to work on at nights and weekends that she ought to just take the
children and go back home to Oakland, California and then she would
have more help from her relatives than she was getting from me. This
attitude and the issue of spending more time with my five children
weighed heavily on me, and I said let me think about it. Further, the job
as Assistant General Counsel would pay considerably more than what I
was getting as a magistrate. As I now recall it would result in a pay
approximately between $22,000 to $23,000 more than what I was
receiving as a magistrate. My four older children were entering their early
teens, and in three or four years later they would be entering college one
after the other with all the expenses that would involve. I said I would
give the matter serious thought and this led to a further meeting with the
three Commissioners in person with my wife present in their conference
room to assure her that I would have more time to spend with the children
and that politically I would not have to get involved but could give legal
opinions like a judge would objectively and as required by the United
States Constitution and the laws. Then all three Commissioners – the
Chairman Alan Scotty Campbell, Vice-Chair Jule Sugarman and
Commissioner Ersa Poston – assented to those conditions and stressed that
I would have a staff of attorneys working for me which would give me
more time to be with and involved with our children and that they would
honor the condition that I could act like a federal district court judge
harmonizing the civil service law with affirmative action and not be
required to yield to political considerations in the legal opinions I
approved or wrote or had staff attorneys write for my approval. I
emphasized that I would only approve or write legal advisory memoranda
or letters that I thought five Justices on the United States Supreme Court
would approve. Commissioner Ersa Poston responded “That’s ideal, Mr.
Burnett. That’s what we want. Under the President we do not intend to
compromise the Merit System and we want someone who will act like a
federal district court judge.” Vice-Chairman Jule Sugarman made similar
comments, and then Chairman Scotty Campbell said, “Well if my two
colleagues here accept those guidelines, we are prepared to offer you the
position.” I then accepted the position and left the magistrate’s system.
Thus, after agonizing over the decision, I decided to take the offer and to
become the United States Civil Service Commission Assistant General
Counsel in charge of the Legal Advisory Division of the Office and I did
have more time to become an assistant scout master in which our two boys
were involved and to referee football games in which they played, and to
participate in activities of our two older daughters at their schools and the
activities in which they were engaged as teenagers. Our youngest
daughter was then only 3 years old at the time.
MR. MARMON: Tell a little bit about what you did in the job.
JUDGE BURNETT: In the job, when issues came up about harmonizing equal employment
opportunities, affirmative action, with civil service merit requirements, I
wrote legal opinions which were then sent by the Commission to a
government agency or department saying our legal advisor advises that no
you can’t do this or yes you can do this and so forth. With reference to
blending the two, some would say conflicted, I would say actually I can’t
see being a reverse segregationist in the sense of favoring a less-qualified
black over a white person who is equally or more qualified. And indeed, a
very interesting thing happened while I was in that position.
I was asked by Eleanor Holmes Norton to an interview with her to
become the General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. She went over those issues with me, and I made the same
comments in substance I had made to the three Commissioners of the
United States Civil Service Commission. I told her that I could not
compromise the civil service merit standards and act like a White
segregationist in favoring White candidate over a better qualified Colored
individual. Thus, I unequivocally stated as an African-American I could
not give preference to an African-American over a better qualified White
applicant. I emphasized that I would have to be “color blind.” I was not
selected to be recommended to the President to be appointed the General
Counsel and continued as Assistant General Counsel of the United States
Civil Service Commission. I had taken the position that I could not
shoehorn affirmative action and give it greater preference than the civil
service system required.
So I think my insistence on being a purist caused me not to be
recommended for Presidential appointment as General Counsel of the
Equal Opportunity Commission at the time. I continued as Legal Advisor
in the Civil Service Commission, and then along about late 1976 or early
1977, President Jimmy Carter asked Scotty Campbell who in the Civil
Service Commission was the most scholarly, qualified person to reform
the civil service system. I was designated by Scotty Campbell to be the
Legal Advisor to the President in overseeing and developing proposed
legislation to improve the civil service system, to flesh somewhat
patterned on the model of the Office of Management and Budget and to
flesh out its powers and obligations, thus developing the prohibited
personnel practices, and drafting the other provisions to be in the law as to
its duties and obligations. I was further assigned the task to deal with
separation of employee rights in a new entity to be called the Merit
Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and I drafted the provisions in the bill
to establish that separate entity. And its duties and obligations. Finally, I
drafted the provisions as to the duties and obligations of the Office of
Special Counsel to prohibit political activity by federal government
employees. Finally, the proposed legislation contemplated the creation of
a Labor-Management Agency for the federal personnel system, the
proposed provisions being drafted by experts in the Civil Service
Commission dealing with labor unions and labor-management issues, and
I oversaw their proposals which went into the bill which resulted in the
Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
Then the Merit System Protection Board separated the
management side from determining the rights of employees and so forth. I
wrote the provisions on Merit Systems Protection Board. And then, along
with an expert in labor management, co-wrote the provision dealing with
and setting up and defining the powers of the labor relations. Fourth was
carving out the role of the Office of Special Counsel to deal with
prohibiting political activity by government employees. I took the lead,
along with the expert in the labor field and the Hatch Act field of drafting
what became the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
MR. MARMON: Were you involved in the legislative process?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. As a matter of fact, during that time I was officially the Civil Service
Commission liaison to the White House Counsel’s Office and physically
present in the White House and on the Hill in dealing with House of
Representatives Post Office and Civil Service Committee and dealing with
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. I was the lead person that the
President had to shepherd that legislation through Congress. Frequently, I
was there with the Committee staff of the House and the Senate
Committees until 11:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight or 1:00 a.m. in the
morning on proposed amendments, drafting bill language, and reviewing
drafts of House and Senate Committees’ Reports on the proposed
Indeed, in one instance, and this is probably, I won’t say the most
tested time I ever had before a Congressional Committee. I testified for
the Administration on the entire bill before the Senate Governmental
Affairs Committee as the lead government witness. When I finished
testifying for the Administration on the entire bill, the Chair said,
“Mr. Burnett, we don’t want you to leave. We want you to sit at the end
of the witness table over there, and as each witness testifies and raises
questions about what this legislation will provide as to any provision in it,
we want you present to answer them.” So I sat before that Committee
from approximately 10:00 a.m.in the morning until 6:00 p.m. that evening
responding to the criticisms and questions prompted from all the witnesses
who testified that day and answers questions from members of the
Governmental Affairs Committee prompted by the witnesses’ testimony.
Before the House Post Office and the Civil Service Committee I did the
same thing but it was not quite as grueling as the proceedings before the
Senate Committee. In connection with the proposed legislation, on the
day I testified before the Senate Committee, I had been requested by then
Representative Gladys Spellman of the 8th Congressional District in
Maryland, to appear and testify in Maryland where she was holding a
hearing and she said she wanted me to be at this hearing she was holding
that night. To hear from her constituents and answer any questions any of
them might have about provisions of the proposed legislation. I went to
that hearing, which went from about 8:30 p.m. to almost 12:00 p.m. that
night. That was the most grilling day I have had in my life.
The outcome of that was I got to be very, I won’t say attached, but
very close as a liaison to Abraham A. Ribicoff, of Connecticut the then
Chair of the Senate Committee, and Representative Morris K. Udall of
Utah. It was as if I was almost a member of their respective Committees’
Staff. When they drafted the House and Senate reports, they had me to
review them to make sure they were accurate.
MR. MARMON: What were the major innovations or changes that the Act provided for?
JUDGE BURNETT: In connection with prohibitive personnel practices, we had provisions
dealing with the so-called whistleblower problems and protections and
how to protection whistleblowers against retaliation who act in fact with
genuine sincerity as to alleged corruption or politicizing merit decisions
in the civil service system and to make sure that the merit system operated
like a scientific model based on pure merit and not because of
relationships, politics or bias or prejudice of any sort. So my biggest
challenge was to draw up prohibitive personnel practices that would
provide adequate protection and guarantee that the merit system would not
be corrupted.
MR. MARMON: How long did you stay in that job?
JUDGE BURNETT: I stayed in that job until January 1980. Indeed, during the course of that
time period in 1978 or early 1979, that when I was also in a time period
when I came under consideration for appointment to the U.S. Court of
Military Appeals, now called United States Court of Armed Services
Appeals, was interviewed by Deanne Siemer, General Counsel of the
United States Department of Defense for appointment to the United States
Court of Military Appeals, later renamed the United States Court of
Appeals for the Armed Forces. Also during that same time period, I was a
final candidate for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and
interviewed by the Judicial Nomination Commission for appointment in to
that Court in 1978-1979. Both of those potential appointments occurred
during the same time period, and while I was among the finalists being
considered, I was not selected for either of these two appointments.
One of the questions raised before the Judicial Nomination
Commission for the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals was whether I had
left the magistrate position because I had done something wrong or
somehow messed up as a judicial officer. There was a lingering cloud and
some persons thought my family situation and pay compensation
justifications were merely a cover for having somehow messed up.
Usually when a person gets to be a judge, he or she dies in the office
retires as a judge, but a judge does not leave to take another job. I later
learned from Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson upon being re-appointed a
Magistrate the second time in 1980 and also from others that Members of
the Judicial Commission for the Federal Circuit Court appointment had
called district court judges of the District of Columbia and had asked if
there was anything unfavorable about as to why I had left the magistrate
position in 1975. They later told me that the Commission was a little
concerned that I had given up the magistrate position and went to be legal
counsel in the United States Civil Service Commission and if any judge
had found any problems with my performance as a judicial officer. We
told them definitely not, that I was totally in compliance, and it wasn’t
until January of 1980 that I was reappointed as a magistrate again, the
second time, I think the suspicion that I had done something wrong or
displeased some federal judge and had been kicked out that the shadow or
the question totally disappeared.
MR. MARMON: Any other events you want to talk about for the period in the Civil Service
JUDGE BURNETT: In 1979 – 1980, that was a Presidential Campaign between President
Jimmy Carter being re-elected and Ronald Reagan I was being vetted to
be appointed Director of the Office of Government Ethics. Or
alternatively, the Director of the Office of Special Counsel by the White
House. An investigation for my nomination to one of these positions and
was in process for me for that appointment. However, it then appeared
that President Jimmy Carter would lose to Ronald Reagan. Even though
each of those offices carried four year terms, I concluded that an occupant
of that position was still removable by the President. I concluded that if I
took either appointment by then President Jimmy Carter, if Ronald Reagan
got elected, he could demand my resignation and I would be out in private
practice, and at that point, in 1980, my oldest daughter was just entering
college and my older son would be starting college in 1980. I concluded
that I did not want to be thrown into private practice with two of my
children starting college. It was then that former Chief Judge Aubrey
Robinson called me and asked if I would be interested in coming back as a
magistrate again. I noted that Congress had raised the salary to 90% of the
level for district court judges and I enjoyed judicial work so much, that I
applied to return to my old position as the person who had taken my place,
had been appointed to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and
that position was vacant again. That 90% salary was equivalent to what I
was earning as Assistant General Counsel then in the Office of Personnel
Management. I said definitely, at least I would have more stability and
security in my life and for my family. I then notified the White House of
my decision and pulled out of being vetted for either of the two
presidential appointments by President Jimmy Carter and opted to go back
to being a magistrate, and was sworn in the second time in January of
That was my plight in December 1979 and early January 1980. I
turned down two potential Presidential appointments.
MR. MARMON: Maybe we should talk about your second magistrate years. I’m not sure
we covered that last time. We just covered the first magistrate period.
Let’s move on to that and then move into your Superior Court
JUDGE BURNETT: Before we do that, while I was in the legal advisory status, Congress
considered legislation to expand the jurisdiction of the United States.
Magistrates. I was the Chair of the Federal Bar Association’s committee
on the magistrates system, and I appeared and testified before the Senate
Judiciary Committee with Ted Kennedy as Chair and Strom Thurmond as
Minority Leader at the time. Griffin Bell, then Attorney General and
formerly a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, had testified about giving
magistrates authority to try civil cases with consent of the parties. But the
Justice Department’s position was to provide for a de novo trial before a
U.S. district court judge in the district court if the parties did not like the
result of what happened before the magistrate in a civil case trial.
I appeared representing the Federal Bar Association being a former
United States magistrate at that point and testified that United States.
Magistrates are selected and appointed by the federal district judges who
select them like they select their law clerks – the best who apply.
Therefore, a majority of the active sitting district court judges will select
the best intellectual person they can find. Second, magistrates who are
selected will want to encourage the lawyers of the Bar to consent so civil
trials before them and therefore magistrates are not going to be as
arrogant or dictatorial or acerbic as some district judges may be, and thus
magistrates will bend over backward to be civil and reasonable to
encourage lawyers to use them more, and will take a more neutral middle
road in dealing with the lawyers, and the lawyers might be more
comfortable in trying cases before United States magistrates than some
federal district judges. Finally, magistrates who are selected for the
position figure they might want to become district court judges, so they’re
going to set out when they have these consent cases to give the litigants
and the lawyers the best trial they can give them. Senator Strom
Thurmond said, “Mr. Burnett, that’s a brilliant idea.” And indeed they
rejected Attorney General Bell’s position and actually accepted my
position of giving consent jurisdiction to United States magistrates but
with appeals directly to the United States. Courts of Appeals so you would
not have the double expense of litigants having to fund two separate trials
in the district court if they didn’t like the outcome of what happened
before the magistrate.
Thus I was the spark plug, you might say, of overriding the Justice
Department’s position and getting Congress to provide basically that with
consent, the magistrate sits as a substitute district court judge with direct
appeal to the applicable U.S. Court of Appeals.
In addition during that time, they were also broadening the pretrial
functions in dealing with pretrial motions, and indeed, we developed a
system and a rule of the court which was adopted throughout the Congress
that the district court would have a rule that magistrates would submit a
report and recommendation, but when ten days expired and neither side
have objected to the magistrate’s report and recommendation, it
automatically became the ruling of the district court without a judge even
bothering to read it. They adopted that practice, and I was the guy running
with the football in getting that accomplished.
MR. MARMON: Moving on into your period as magistrate for the second time, let’s talk
about that period now.
JUDGE BURNETT: During that period, the role of magistrate judges in civil cases, especially
as a result of Congress giving magistrate consent power to try cases, they
also gave magistrates the power to preside as settlement judges to settle
cases and to more or less enter orders dealing with discovery issues and
deposition disputes, interrogatories, confidentiality, attorney client
privileges matters, application for attorney fees, where applicable,, et
cetera. I had many legal issues come before me where I wrote opinions
much like a district court judge that were published in the Federal Rules
Decision. During that period, I wrote 43 such opinions published in the
Federal Rules Decision Reporter as pretrial rulings of the U.S. District
Court of the District of Columbia. (See Appendix for list of such cases)
Indeed, one case I dealt with the complicated issue of attorney-client
privilege and the issue of whether or not the attorney-client privilege was
say abrogated when the attorney was complicit in the obstruction of
discovery or destruction of documents. As a result of my ruling in that
particular case, CBS Broadcasting Company, a sexual harassment case
was settled, and the decision was then later cited by the 7th Circuit Court
of Appeals as to how federal courts should rule in federal courts in the
entire nation. The attorney-client privilege does not protect a lawyer who
becomes an aider and abettor in a crime, a co-conspirator, or participant in
a fraud, or obstructs justice in a criminal case.
MR. MARMON: Can you go into more detail about what was concluded there?
JUDGE BURNETT: I concluded that the attorney-client privilege did not apply when there was
sufficient or valid evidence that the lawyer was engaged in covering up or
protecting a broadcasting company from allegations of sexual harassment
by a woman, and if the lawyer had in fact advised a client to destroy and
not to produce certain things, then the attorney-client privilege had no
application, and that would be an exception to the attorney-client
privilege. This principle might well also apply in obstruction of justice
cases or accessory after the fact.
MR. MARMON: Interesting. Any other notable cases that you had?
JUDGE BURNETT: As a result of my pretrial rulings and handling of pretrial discovery issues,
many lawyers began to consent to trials before me actually sitting as a
district court judge, and in1985, I actually tried, presided in a role of a
United States District Court judge, over thirteen civil cases and ultimately
tried as if I were a district court judge with direct appeals to the court of
appeals applicable. None of those cases were reversed.
MR. MARMON: Do you remember any of those cases, the particulars of any of them?
JUDGE BURNETT: Not specifically right now, but I recall that when I was nominated by
President Ronald Reagan to be appointed to the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia, which handles both state type general jurisdiction
crimes and civil cases as well as some federal cases, I had to compile that
information and submit it to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
that oversees the confirmation of judges to the D.C. Superior Court.
That’s why I remember the number thirteen separate cases with a specific
number in mind. I provided that list of 13 cases to the Committee during
my confirmation hearing process.
MR. MARMON: Let’s move on to your appointment by President Ronald Reagan to the
D.C. Superior Court. How did that come about?
JUDGE BURNETT: Actually, in 1987, I applied both for the U.S. District Court and the
Superior Court, and Ed Meese was Attorney General. Royce Lamberth
was also being considered for District Court. Royce Lamberth told me
that Ed Meese told him that his competitor for appointment to the federal
district court was Judge Burnett, but we have enough black judges on the
district court now, and indeed Royce said he got the appointment because
Meese, as a political matter, didn’t want any more black judges on the
U.S. District Court, and I ended up on the Superior Court. The two of us
were being considered for federal court and I ended up on the Superior
Court, Royce Lamberth got the federal appointment. We both went
through confirmation procedures at the same time.
MR. MARMON: What happened during the confirmation proceedings?
JUDGE BURNETT: Basically at the hearing they reviewed my life history much like we are
talking here now. What is your history, Judge Burnett, what have you
done, and have there ever been any ethical complaints filed against you. I
said I don’t know of any. I have never been told of any. Pretty much
basically I recall that there was a Senator Sasser from Tennessee and
Senator Roth from Delaware on the committee that presided over my
confirmation hearing, and they were more laudatory about my background
then I would have been in person. They said they remembered me from
my work with Congressional Committees because I was the one who led
the work on Civil Service Reform in the Carter Administration They
explicitly spoke of my excellent work with the Committees dealing with
Civil Service Reform. Indeed their statements were far longer than my
official statement in my confirmation hearing. Their statements in the
transcript sounded more like my eulogy and I had died and gone to
Heaven. They asked me certain perfunctory question like have any Bar
discipline complaints ever been filed against you, have you ever had any
tax problems, are you aware of any of your children being involved in any
drug problems or illegal conduct or so forth. The ultimate question was
whether I aware of any fact about me which would embarrass the
President of the United States. I think my testimony before the Committee
was only three or four pages.in length.
MR. MARMON: What was the vote for confirmation?
JUDGE BURNETT: Unanimous for confirmation. According to what I was told, by consent. It
was not controversial at all.
MR. MARMON: Was it voted on in the full Senate?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. Full Senate.
MR. MARMON: That was also by unanimity?
JUDGE BURNETT: The way I read the record it was unanimous.
MR. MARMON: Let’s talk about life in the D.C. Superior Court.
JUDGE BURNETT: When I got sworn into the Superior Court, Fred Ugast was the Chief Judge
of the Court. I was sworn in one day, and the next day he said, “Judge
Burnett, you are an experienced judicial official. We don’t need to go
through training. Here’s your calendar, go sit on the bench. So I didn’t
even have to go through a training period. I was just transferring from one
kind of cases to another type of cases. So my second day on the job, I had
a full calendar and started handling cases just like an experienced judge on
the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
MR. MARMON: What kinds of cases did you have?
JUDGE BURNETT: I started out with a misdemeanor calendar dealing with simple assaults and
shoplifting, destruction of property, unlawful entry and petty larceny.
Then moved on to handling felony criminal cases involving assaults with a
dangerous weapon, burglary and robberies. The assignments at that point
were for one year at a time so usually from January through December. I
came on in November, so most of the year had passed, and in January I
was assigned a Felony II case which is everything that involved such as
offenses carrying 5, 10 and 15 years sentences,, and then finally I moved
on to handling first-degree murder and, rape cases which carried the
potential of 30 years to life sentences. To use a baseball analogy the
Chief Judge started a new judge off handling minor criminal cases and
then moved the judge up to more serious cases and ultimately to the big
league handling first degree murder cases.
MR. MARMON: Was the court on Fifth Street?
JUDGE BURNETT: I started off in the Court of General Sessions Building at Sixth and E
Streets, N.W. The Civil Court cases were handled down in a Court
Building at Fifth and E Streets across from where the new Center Judicial
Building is now. For the first year or two, my chambers and courtrooms
were on Fifth and E Streets, Northwest.
MR. MARMON: Did you enjoy that work?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. It was fine. I just jumped in and did what had to be done.
MR. MARMON: How long did that period go on for?
JUDGE BURNETT: Actually, the Chief Judge changed calendars every year. There came a
point that I was assigned to a civil calendar. I think I took over the
calendar from Judge Ricardo Urbina that had over 750-cases on it, and I
was getting about 70-80 new cases every month, so that meant I had to
dispose of about 80 cases just to keep the calendar manageable. During
that period I worked day and nights handling and reviewing my assigned
civil cases spending 14-16 hours a day. I recall that when I left the
calendar two years later, I had reduced the calendar to approximately 550
cases. I at least kept current, got rid of the older cases first within two or
three years and was able to reduce the calendar by approximately 200
cases. I was on the civil calendar for a couple years and then I went back
on criminal cases calendar dealing with murder and rape cases and major
drug cases.
During that time period I received the case involving Carl Rowan,
a noted columnist and news media person, and a former ambassador, with
reference to youth breaking into his house and swimming in a pool at his
residence, and it resulted in charges against him for unlawful possession
and having a gun. In that case the defense claimed that the Police
Department had approved him having the gun in his house for his
protection. I developed a new doctrine and created a jury instruction that
instructed the jury that if the Police Department had approved him having
the weapon, then the Government Prosecutor should be estopped from
convicting him for unlawful possession of the weapon or carrying the
weapon in and about his own residence. The jury hung and the
Government did not proceed to try him again and the charges were
dismissed. Thus, I developed the criminal defense doctrine of estoppel by
government action – a new doctrine called estoppel by government action,
with referenced to the fact that the police department had in fact approved
Carl Rowan having a gun in his house, and then the government turned
around and after the pool incident prosecuted him for illegal possession
and display of weapon. I analogized that behavior by government agents
to a situation like a law enforcement officer telling an individual he or she
can park at such a location in an emergency situation and when he returns
finds that he has received a parking ticket for illegal parking when he had
the approval of an officer to do so. I wrote an opinion on that issue with
reference to that defense. I developed that doctrine with reference to
estoppel with reference to criminal prosecution and that being a valid
criminal defense when a person acts at the direction of law enforcement
and then they turn around and prosecute that person for illegal conduct.
The other big case I had was the one involving John Hinckley, in
connection with shooting President Ronald Reagan. That was during my
second appointment as United States Magistrate in the United States
District Court for the District of Columbia
MR. MARMON: Let’s talk about that.
JUDGE BURNETT: In the district court as a magistrate, I was the arraigning judicial officer
who handled the preliminary proceedings involved as a magistrate the
second time when John Hinckley was arrested and brought before the
court. I recall that I conducted the initial appearance around midnight
with the Director of the FBI sitting in the front row of my courtroom and
with the courthouse being under tight security, and I entered the order
referring him to a federal mental health center for a determination of his
mental status and whether he could claim insanity as a criminal defense in
the prosecution of the case. Subsequently upon referral from Judge
Barrington Parker I handled other pretrial proceedings in the Hinckley
case as well.
I also handled many cases involving demonstrators against the
Vietnam War. I actually had the experience of women sometimes being
arrested with young babies and opening their blouse clothing with their
breasts fully exposed and nursing their babies sitting on the courtroom
floor waiting to for their initial appearances and bail or pretrial release,
but refusing to give their true identities, and thus I was left with no
alternative but to commit them without bail as “Jane Doe’s” until we could
get the history of the individual and/or identify parents or other relatives
and arrange for third party custody releases arraigned or being advised of
their rights as a magistrate judge the second time around in the federal
court system. I also handled cases as a magistrate involving persons
protesting against the United States Supreme Court in connection with its
rulings on abortion, and even one case in which Chief Justice Rehnquist
was listed as a witness. The case was resolved without the need for his
MR. MARMON: Going back to the Superior Court days, are any other cases you want to
talk about?
JUDGE BURNETT: There was one other case, and as a matter of fact I developed an expertise
in dealing with neglect and abuse cases, welfare and foster care cases. We
had one case in which a lawyer on behalf of a young lady had filed what
you would call a motion for termination of parental rights. She had been a
runaway from home and considered “incorrigible”. She was placed in a
group home by another judge of our court. My recollection is that it was
in a group home facility in Georgia. She testified by electronic means
over open microphone from the group home that she ran away from home
not because she was engaged in prostitution but because her mother could
not have a baby and wanted to give her $500.00 to get pregnant by her
mother’s live-in boyfriend and she kept running away because she did not
want the mother’s boyfriend to impregnate her and that she wanted to in
her words divorce her mother, change her name, and start life over again.
When she testified on open microphone from Georgia into the courtroom,
the courtroom audience was spellbound. Further, her grades had so
improved while in the group home that she was preparing to attend
college. I granted the motion. At the point when she was in the group
home, she had participated in furthering her high school education where
she was an A and B student and would be going to college, stating that she
wanted to become a social worker to prevent other girls going through
what had happened to her. So that was one of the most interesting cases I
handled in the Superior Court sitting on termination of parental rights
The other aspect of that assignment was that I also became the
adoption judge. As the adoption judge in these cases, I had numerous
petition to review to decide whether to grant or deny petitions for adoption
by the caretakers. These cases tugged at my heart strings and I frequently
stayed up until 2:00 a.m. in the morning review adoption case files. I
recall there was one occasion that In one month, I granted a total of 83
adoptions to give these children loving homes and the quality of care they
deserved. This was probably the highest number of adoptions in one
month by any judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
This may well be the highest number of adoptions granted in a month’s
time in the history of the Superior Court in the District of Columbia. I
have not heard of any other judge of the Superior Court granting more
adoptions in one month’s time.
MR. MARMON: Why was the Superior Court monitoring the adoption process?
JUDGE BURNETT: The Superior Court was created as a general jurisdiction court with
comprehensive jurisdiction over all types of cases rather than having
separate specialized courts as in some states. Thus Congress consolidated
in the Superior Court jurisdiction all types of matters handled by state
courts throughout the United States and also authorized the Superior Court
to handle some cases based on federal grounds such as the prosecutions by
the United States Attorney in the Superior Court and allowing civil cases
involving unlawful discrimination and other types of cases to be brought
in the Superior Court because of the status of the District of Columbia.
Thus, the Superior Court has far broader jurisdiction than Circuit Courts in
the States as general jurisdiction courts. Superior Court is a
comprehensive court that covers all those matters as a consolidated court
rather than a separate adoption court like you used to have back in the
olden days in some of the states. So the Superior Court has functioned
basically as a dual court, as a state court of general jurisdiction over all
state-type matters, as well as being a quasi-federal court much like
territorial court in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. So Superior Court
judges handled cases both that were state-type cases and federal-type
MR. MARMON: Adoption cases were contested adoptions or why were they before the
JUDGE BURNETT: Absolutely. Many times the parents would not want their rights
terminated and their child or children adopted. There was also the
question of suitability of the people who wanted to adopt a child contested
by social workers of the government agency overseeing the child on
welfare. They would make reports, including reports on lifestyle, history,
drug uses, and so forth, of the potential adoptee parents.
As a result of my work in the Superior Court and dealing with the
foster care cases and neglect abuse, termination of parental rights and
adoption cases, I came to the attention of Marian Wright Edelman, and
when I got to a point where I was eligible to retire, Marian Wright
Edelman said, “Judge Burnett, why don’t you retire, take senior judge
status where you can select where you want to sit or don’t want to sit and
become my judicial advisor with reference to legislation and policies to
improve the system for youth and deficient homes in America.” So in
1998, between eleven and twelve years into my fifteen-year term, I
decided to retire, or semi-retire, you might say, and take senior judge
status in October 1998. Whenever I was not actually engaged in activities
for the Children’s Defense Fund and testifying before Congress, I was
available almost full time from 1998 until 2004 handling civil cases
involving the youth system of the Superior Court dealing with juvenile
delinquency, dealing with neglect and abuse, dealing with termination of
parental rights and adoption simultaneously while being an advisor to the
Children’s Defense Fund with Marian Wright Edelman, and to some
extent, on legislation involving children I had dealings with Hillary
Clinton and other members of the United States Congress.
As a matter of fact, Marian Wright Edelman urged me to work
with Hillary Clinton’s office staff as a volunteer when she was a United
States Senator. I did not pursue that option as I concluded that I would be
working in the Senator’s office full time and not available to work for the
Children’s Defense Fund or to handle cases as a Senior Judge of the
Superior Court. I also ended up being a frequent speaker at conferences
and programs around the country and even to establish and run programs
at the Alex Haley Farm in Tennessee put on by the Children’s Defense
Fund on how to improve the childcare system in America.
MR. MARMON: What were some of your views on that?
JUDGE BURNETT: My views on that were that I recommended, and I recommended even to
the city here, that there should be a middle ground between terminating
parental rights and adoption called temporary guardianships which would
provide for temporary guardians for children who are in homes where the
parent has a drug problem and tell the parent we will give you two years
to effectively deal with your drug problem if you want your child or
children back with you and back under your care. If at the end of two
years you are not improving or you are going downhill, then the child will
be put up for adoption, but let us get the child out of your house into a
stable setting where we don’t have the problem like the girl in Georgia
where the mother was trying to force the girl to have sex with her live-in
boyfriend to get pregnant by him because she, the mother, could not get
pregnant and now have a child. In many instances, unfortunately, many
poor black women sometimes sell their bodies to get their drugs.
Sometimes they even offer their teenage or pre-teen girl child or children
for sex. They may say: “I’m on the rag now, you can have sex with my
daughter instead.” Mom may tell the daughter if you do not do it, we will
lose our place to stay and have to live on the street. So we have run into
those hard problems in dealing with people who live in property and
people with drug addiction problems. Sometimes drugs lead people to do
things that are almost unimaginable.
So I have dealt with those type of situations, and in many
instances, I have worked out a situation under the State Transfer Act of
providing for interchange among states for children to go to Georgia,
Mississippi or Alabama to live with grandparents for a couple years while
the mother or father try to get their lives straightened out, and if they do,
the children can come back and still be biologically and legally their
children if we had a guardianship arrangement as opposed to terminating
rights of the natural parent and placing the child with initially with a
stranger who may develop such an attachment with the child to legally
adopt the child.
That was the toughest problem I have faced in my judicial career is
how to break the back of cyclical poverty and degradation and to give
these children the opportunity to develop their abilities and talents and
become contributing to the communities in which they become adults, and
at the same time reducing significantly crime and violence in the United
States. Coming up with a middle ground approach of temporary
guardianships may be a way to improve the quality of our communities
and reduce crime, violence and mass incarceration in this nation. Such a
system would create an incentive for biological parents for people to cope
with their addictive dependency problem to turn their lives around.
Finally, if the temporary guardianships would also provide for
guardianship subsidies, like adoption subsidies, it may give senior citizens
who have retired from 40 hour a week employment, supplemental income
to remain in our inner cities and help provide for their healthcare as senior
citizens and keep their lives interesting and productive. It could slow
down the gentrification of our major urban areas of this nation and
improve public safety. It could revitalize the concept of it taking the
whole village to raise a child to reach his or her potential as a human
MR. MARMON: How was it like working with Marian Wright Edelman?
JUDGE BURNETT: She is a most agreeable and inspiring woman, most compassionate, and
indeed she would have been a better choice for the Supreme Court than
Clarence Thomas [laughter]. I think she would have been a person on the
United States Supreme Court who would be more like a Justice
Frankfurter or one of the most scholarly justices we could have had.
Until 2004, that was the area in which I more or less specialized in
– dealing with children issues in the court system. Being a speaker for the
Children’s Defense Fund and advising Marian Wright Edelman, Congress
on legislation and bills pending in Congress and communicating with
Senator Leahy, Senator Leahy, and Congressman Bobby Scott and others
in the House of Representatives was most fulfilling to me. I sort of served
as her liaison with members of Congress on children’s issues.
MR. MARMON: When did you actually leave the Superior Court altogether?
JUDGE BURNETT: August 1, 2004. That came about in connection with my being involved
with the National Bar Association to create a coalition of major Black
organizations to deal with the social problems of poor Black Americans
and the criminal justice system and needed reforms in both the juvenile
justice system and in the criminal justice system in dealing with adults. In
the period of 2002, 2003, Clyde Bailey, a lawyer with Kodak Camera
Company had surgery done by my doctor son and learned of me through
my son, who’s a doctor at Johns Hopkins specializing in prostate cancer,
and he sought me and said he did not know why he had not learned of me
before then. He then contacted me and asked me to meet with him and
told of his plans once he became President of the National Bar
Association. These discussions led to him asking me to be his judicial
aide or judicial chief of staff as the incoming President of the National Bar
Association. He stated: “What I want to do as my legacy to the National
Bar is to bring together all the major Black organizations in this country in
a unified matter, much like the United States or a United Nations, and
based on your background and experience, I want you to be my principal
adviser to do this.” He advised that his wife was a Ph. D. Professor in
Psychology at Howard University would also work with the two of us on
this program. He concluded that he wanted me to be their advisor in
setting up this Coalition.
The Coalition had its initial meeting in the House Rayburn Office
building that was set up by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. I
was the emcee at that particular event, and members of the Black Caucus
Foundation encouraged us to proceed with the implementation of our plan
to create this Coalition. I was designated to take the lead to achieve this
objective and on August 1, 2004 I took a sabbatical from the Court as a
Senior Judge to recruit and organize this Coalition of Black Professional
Organizations as the consensus at the April 1, 2004 meeting was
unanimous to proceed with setting up this Coalition.
So on August 1, 2004, I took a sabbatical from the Superior Court
to become full time the executive director of the National AfricanAmerican Drug Policy Coalition, an association of organizations at that
point, to explore with the various organizations their interest in joining a
Coalition of organizations to deal with coming up with retention
programs to keep our Black kids from getting involved in drugs, juvenile
delinquency behaviors and criminal type conduct and eliminate biases and
prejudices in our juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. So I went
on sabbatical, then for what I contemplate d would be just for one or two
years and then returning to the Superior Court to resume acting as a Senior
Judge hearing cases for the remainder of my life. When this brief period
was up, I went back before the Commission on Disabilities and Tenure to
ask for an extension of my sabbatical and it indicated that I was doing
such a great job, that they would give me an indefinite extension. So I still
was considered a senior judge on the court with the power to return to the
court but continued indefinitely. On sabbatical. Year after year went by,
and they kept extending me as a senior judge on sabbatical until 2013,
nine years later. Then Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District
Court, who was the Chair of the Commission, called and said “Judge
Burnett, you’ve been gone so long, why don’t you just go ahead and retire
completely, and now you also are working closely with the Obama
Administration, and though you have tried to avoid getting involved in
political stuff or things you have to handle were you to return to hear
cases. Why don’t you just go ahead and retire completely?” So I retired
completely as a judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
on February 15, 2013.
But in the meantime, going back to August of 2004, that was an
organizing period of exploring with the National Medical Association, and
National Association of Black Social Workers, the Association of Black
Psychologists, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement
Executives and other Black Organizations whether they would join and
become member organizations of the National Coalition, Inc.
It was our initial plan that when we got to a fifteen such
organizations, we would proceed to incorporate and apply for 501(c)(3)
status with the Internal Revenue Service. However when we reached July
2005 and we had a total of 15 member organizations indicating their desire
to become members of the National Coalition, about July of 2005, we
reached that number of fifteen, but we had about eight additional
organizations indicating an interest and suggesting that we say hold up
incorporating and formalizing the Coalition. So we held up in 2005, and
finally, by January of 2006, we had 23 separate national Black
organizations saying they wanted to create this coalition and incorporate
much like a United Nations with the National-African American Policy
Coalition under your leadership being an organization dealing with
Congress, dealing with implementing civil rights in criminal justice,
juvenile justice and preventing our kids from contributing to mass
incarceration of blacks in this country. So we proceeded and were
incorporated in District of Columbia on January 12, 2006. Then through
the services of voluntary counsel we applied for and received our Internal
Revenue Service status as a non-profit corporate entity on August 30,
2006 retroactive to January 12, 2006. In the incorporation process I
became the Vice President of Administration. Since August 1, 2004, I
have been the National Executive Director of that organization.
On October 1, 2018 I relinquished the position of Vice President of
Administration in view of my age and health issues and the Board of
Directors decided to divide the functions with another retired judge taking
the Officer Position as Vice President of Administration, but I continuing
at the present time as the National Executive Director and the National
Spokesperson for the Coalition.
The current situation is I’m still the national executive director and
national spokesperson, but she’s the vice president of administration, so
when things come up having to do with authority of vice president or in
her domain overseeing that, I say you can take care of that now. I remain
as a member of the Board of Directors.
MR. MARMON: You mentioned that you got involved with the Obama Administration.
Why don’t you talk about that?
JUDGE BURNETT: In connection with the Obama Administration, the Congressional Black
Caucus, I’m told by reliable sources, recommended me to Obama to be the
Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. I was told that
President Obama indicated that I had such wide experience, he did not
want to pigeon hole me on drug policy and that he wanted to use me
across the entire operation of the federal government. I want to use him
across the entire operation of the United States government.
Consequently, as a result of that, I have had calls from Valerie Jarrett on
content of speeches he would make and have been invited to the White
House to consult with staff on a number of matters on sentencing matters
and criminal law issues.
In 2010 I was invited to the White House to be next to his chief of
staff, his advisor, on whether to sign the bill that reduced the disparity
between crack cocaine and powder cocaine or insist on a one-on-one
parity, and I advised and sat next to the chief of staff during the advisory
committee to advise whether he should even sign the bill which came the
Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
On other instances, I received calls we want you at the White
House to be part of an advisory meeting on this issue or that issue. In
2014, I received a White House award from the Obama Administration as
one of the top ten experts in the nation on substance abuse in the country.
I recall one instance I was in Hawaii and was speaking at a
conference of National Medical Association. At 9:00 a.m.in the morning,
I get a call from the White House and said the President wanted me to be
with him at a program here in Washington at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon. I
said I’m in Hawaii right now, and even if a private plane was here, you
couldn’t get me there by 3:00 p.m. Washington, D.C. time. When I did
return, I went from Hawaii to Michigan where I was a keynote speaker at
a Michigan state drug professional organization, and from there, I went to
Florida for a meeting. So I had three trips lined up back to back without
returning home. That was my relationship with the Obama
Administration. And indeed, in some instances when they were making
reports to Congress, they would run a draft of the report by me for me to
flag any issues on which they should be focusing on specifically.
Ironically, as life would have it, serendipity, my oldest son, Arthur
Burnett II, was a student at Princeton University when Michelle Robinson
came to Princeton as a freshman. My older son was assigned as her big
brother at Princeton. My second son, Darryl Lawford Burnett, was a
professor at the University of Maryland in Public Health combating the
drug crisis it had following the death of Lenny Bias. He took a sabbatical
to go on leave to write his thesis for a Ph.D. degree, and in that capacity
ended up working with a gentleman named Danny Davis, who was then an
Alderman in Chicago before being elected to Congress. My son on
sabbatical ended up being the Program Manager while on sabbatical for
the National Association of Community Health Centers and was an aide to
Alderman Danny Davis, who was campaign manager for Barack Obama
when he ran to become a state Senator. As a result Darryl too had contact
with Barack Obama. So both of my sons have had contact with the
Obama family.
Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is William Marmon and the interviewee
is Honorable Arthur Burnett Sr. The interview took place at the home of William Marmon on Tuesday,
October 29, 2019. This is the fourth interview.
MR. MARMON: Good morning, Judge.
JUDGE BURNETT: Good morning. It’s my pleasure to be here with you this morning.
MR. MARMON: In this session, we’re going to go back and go over some of the more
legalistic aspects of your career as federal magistrate and Superior Court
judge. We’re going to cite some cases and talk about in more detail some
of the things we’ve mentioned in summary in an earlier session. So I’d
like to start with your work as a magistrate and in connection with your
work on issuance of arrest and search warrants.
JUDGE BURNETT: When the magistrates system was set up by Congress and enacted, it was
to replace the old U.S. Commissioner System. Commissioners would
issue arrest and search warrants. One of the first assignments I had was to
be liaison with the Federal Judicial Center headed by former Justice Tom
Clark of the United States Supreme Court who retired, which led to
Thurgood Marshall being appointed to his vacancy on the Supreme Court.
As a result, I was given the mission as Chair of the Education Committee
to educate magistrates on how to issue arrest and search warrants that
would withstand appellate scrutiny for adequacy in connection with U.S.
Supreme Court decisions that were during that period frequently coming
down from the Supreme Court and our Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.
Indeed, the United States Supreme Court Reports and federal Court of
Appeals’ decisions were during this period quite numerous. Affidavits
were frequently factually insufficient as to how the affiant knew the facts
or on the reliability of the informant as to hearsay information.
So I set out to establish the standards for issuance of arrest and
search warrants, and indeed we had training sessions for the magistrates in
the five pilot districts where I served in the role as the professor of what
the standards ought to be and wrote an article that was published in the
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology called “Evaluation of
Affidavits and Issuance of Search Warrants: a Practical Guide for
Magistrates.” As a result of that role, I came to the attention of the
National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, affiliated with the American
Bar Association that was set up to be one of their two main lecturers on
issuance of arrest and search warrants. I was joined by a gentleman who
was a trial judge in Oregon by the name of Richard Unis, who later was
elevated to become a state Supreme Court Justice. For several years he
and I would appear at courses in Reno, Nevada, at the National Judicial
College and lecture to audience of 60, 70, or 80, both federal and state
warrant issuing judges to correct and improve the quality of arrest and
search warrant practices in this country. That led to a copy of this article
which I brought with me today as setting the gold standard and led to
basically appellate court decisions by our U.S. Courts of Appeal almost
disappearing from the official reports because of the quality of the work
that Richard Unis and I did with reference to improving the warrant issues
function of the U.S. magistrate system and in the state courts of this
MR. MARMON: We have appended that article to this oral history.
JUDGE BURNETT: As a matter of fact, I became so popular at the National Judicial College
that I recall one time going through my notes and realizing that I had spent
eight weeks of my calendar year in Reno, Nevada, lecturing to several
classes of judges on improving the warrant issuing process for our state
and federal court systems. Indeed, there was one instance where the
leaders approached me about leaving the bench and becoming Director of
the Judicial College, but I didn’t want to move to Nevada. Things were
much more exciting here in Washington, and I did not pursue it.
MR. MARMON: The next area that we wanted to go into is the issue of the federal
magistrates implementing the federal Bail Reform Act.
JUDGE BURNETT: That was the second major area that the Federal Judicial Center and the
five federal courts pilot jurisdictions focused on that started up the
operation. The five federal districts were the District of Columbia, the
Eastern District of Virginia, the District of Kansas, the Northern District
of California, and the Southern District of California. We were asked to
come up with a system that would comply not only in form but in
substance with the philosophy of the federal Bail Reform Act that
Congress had passed back in 1966. We had to focus not only on the
person’s background, but the quality of the government’s evidence so that
people were not sitting in jail just because they did not have money, were
poor, and did not have employment, did not have family or relatives to pay
the premium for surety bonds.
So again, I took a leadership role with the Federal Judicial Center
in lecturing to federal magistrates in the five pilot programs and as others
joined, on looking at the factors involved in setting bail and came up with
the idea that one of the things that we could do to influence people not to
commit crimes while on bail release and not to be in violation of bail
conditions was to comply, because if guilty, a federal district court judge
could take that record of compliance with the bail conditions as to whether
that person should be sentenced to be confined inside a prison serving
time or if that person is placed on probation.
I was told in comments by a number of my U.S. District Court
judges that if people complied with the conditions of bail and showed
meticulous compliance and did not commit additional offenses during the
months or nine months or a year they were on pretrial release before their
case was disposed of, they would take that into consideration in sentencing
the person in the situation where the person was deemed not to be a danger
or threat to the community.
So we innovated that practice, and I have reflected back over that
time period of 1969 to 1975 when I left to go to the Civil Service
Commission as legal advisor, I cannot think of a single case in which I
placed a person on pretrial release under the federal Bail Reform Act that
the person was brought back before me to have pretrial release revoked or
that the person committed any crime while on bail release in the entire six
years. When I returned the second time as a federal magistrate judge, I
continued those practices. And indeed I recall one instance which was
somewhat of a unique case of a young woman who was wanted for
forgery of U.S. government checks. The marshal got out the warrant for
her. She got word that they were looking for her. She came in and
voluntarily surrendered to me rather than to wait for the marshal to arrest
her. She said, “Judge Burnett, I’m not the person they are looking for.
They are looking for someone in Brooklyn, New York, with my same
name, and I am not that person. I put her on pretrial release, checked her
story out, and she was right. I then referred her case to Judge Oliver
Gasch and told him what her circumstances were, and he terminated her
probation based on her diligence and forthrightness.
I recall another instance where my youngest daughter was a
student at Yale University. She was coming home, and I went to pick her
up at Union Station. She and I were walking down the sidewalk from
Union Station to where I had parked my car, and a gentleman on the back
of a garbage truck for the District of Columbia. He said “That’s your dad?
I came before him ten years ago for a drug offense, and he put me on bail,
got me in a drug treatment program, and I complied with what he told me
to do. And now I’m a supervisor of garbage collectors for the District of
MR. MARMON: Great story.
JUDGE BURNETT: So I have had several instances of that type. And then I recall another
instance of a young woman who when she came in court before me, she
looked like dripping wet she would weigh 90 pounds. She was totally
emaciated. I said to her that for her benefit and condition of bail, I’m
going to require that she be placed in a drug facility immediately, like a
half-way house, for drug treatment for several months. She complied with
the bail conditions and completed the program with good flying colors,
and then one day I looked up in my courtroom and here is this young lady
who looked like a professional lawyer sitting in the back my courtroom.
When I finished handling the case before me, she said: “Your Honor, may
I approach the bench?” I said “Yes, who are you? “ She replied, “I’m
such-and-such a person. You saved my life. You required as a condition
of bail that I go into this in-patient drug treatment program. I did so, and I
got over my addiction. I took a secretarial course, and now I’m a secretary
in one of the major law firms here in the District of Columbia.”
So by putting trust in people, you can change their lives and their
motivation and what they can become. Those are just three instances of
how my bail practices changed people’s lives.
MR. MARMON: The third area that we wanted to discuss was the evolution of the pretrial
stages in criminal cases and the pioneering decision of Coleman v.
JUDGE BURNETT: In the case of Coleman v. Burnett, 477 F.2d 1187 (1973), the issue that
came up in a rape case where there had been an issue of whether the
woman had consented but then when the guy didn’t pay enough money,
she claimed rape. I recall that the prosecutor wanted the guy held without
bond and wanted me to, send the case to a grand jury. I said “No, in view
of the defense and consent issue here, I’m going to allow the defense
counsel to subpoena her to testify at the preliminary hearing.’ As a result,
the government filed a Writ of Mandamus against me, and the case went
to the United States Court of Appeals. Judge Spottswood Robinson ended
up writing an extensive appellate decision that went for more than a
hundred pages saying that the Bail Reform Act considered by Congress
had emphasized looking at the quality of the evidence, and we think
Magistrate Burnett is correct in allowing defense counsel to present
witnesses to undermine the strength of the government’s case.
I was later told that the Judicial Conference of the United States
under Chief Justice John Roberts considered the issue and established the
policy for all the federal courts that a preliminary hearing is not solely for
the purpose of the government presenting its evidence and have a person
sitting in jail while a grand jury considers a case. But in cases like a rape
case where consent is an issue or in cases where there is a question of
discrepancy in the description of the defendant, like narcotics undercover
cases or in homicide cases where there is an issue of self-defense, counsel
for the defendant can subpoena and have witnesses testify before the
federal magistrates in a preliminary hearing as to the quality of the
government’s cases in those type of situations. That principle thus became
the policy of the entire federal government. So that case by Judge
Spottswood Robinson with the law review type of opinion, the printed
pages of more than a hundred pages, became the practice for the entire
federal court system.
MR. MARMON: The fourth area we wanted to bring up here is your work with the
American Bar Association in connection with some medical issues.
JUDGE BURNETT: In addition to my work as a magistrate here in the federal court, I was
active in the American Bar Association with the Conference of Special
Court Judges, which it was called at the time, and which the federal
magistrates and bankruptcy judges could be members. Indeed, became so
active in that entity, that in I974 became the first African-American to
Chair a Conference of Judges in the history of the American-Bar
In that capacity, there was a group headed by Chief Justice Shirley
Abramson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court looking at the medical issues
as well as the legal issues of an individual and that person’s stability. I
was asked to serve on that Commission. We met on several occasions in
Wisconsin and elsewhere with that Commission of a group of medical
doctors and lawyers and judges dealing with addiction and substance
abuse problems. I recommended to that Commission and indeed I even
testified before a Commission created by the state of Minnesota to look at
the practices dealing with drug dependence and emotional and mental
health. I urged the idea of what I called two-stage probation. The idea is
that a judge would put the person with a drug problem on probation for the
maximum time that the law allowed but provide that if probation is not
violated, probation shall end at a much earlier date. For example, in the
District of Columbia a judge can put an offender on probation for, a total
of five years. Then tell the person, or give the person an incentive, that if
they comply with the conditions and did not violate conditions of
probation, probation shall terminate within thirty months or two years. So
give the maximum, but also in the initial order, provide that the individual
can earn his or her way off of probation much sooner if he or she
demonstrates a program of compliance with these conditions and stabilize
their lives. In addition, I have suggested that in order to enhance this
objective, that the judge could set a review hearing borrowed from the
practice used in family court in a neglect and abuse practice review
proceedings. Thus a judge upon initial sentencing could put the person on
probation for a long period of time, with an early termination of probation
if there is good faith compliance and also set a review hearing for 60 days
out or 90 days out from the date of initial sentencing just to review with
the person on probation how well he or she is doing.
Indeed, that practice and that idea caught on to a point where Judge
Oliver Gasch of the United States District Court here in Washington, D.C.,
sent a young man before me who the government probation officer had
moved to revoke probation because he was homeless, did not have a fixed
address, and had not reported that to the probation officer as required.
When he came before me, I said “Why hadn’t you done such and such?”
and he said “I knew because I was homeless, but I haven’t committed any
crimes, judge. I’m just trying to stay out of the way of everybody, but
probation people, they won’t give me the services I need.” I called in the
probation officer and asked, and he said, Well, Judge, I didn’t have time.”
I said just because you didn’t have time, we should send this man to prison
for ten years. I said at this point, I’m going to recommend to Judge Gasch
that the Mayor, Marion Barry at the time, the District of Columbia and
government agencies be held in contempt of court for not providing this
man with the services he needs. Judge Gasch backed me up with
reference to my comments that the Probation Office and government
agencies should have provided him with the services he needed. They did
so under the threat of contempt. Several years later, I’m giving a talk to a
group of youngsters at a Fourth of July gathering at one of the park areas
here in the District of Columbia with several thousand youth and adults.
As I was leaving after making my comments to the entire audience, this
man approaches me and says: “Judge, you don’t recognize me, do you?” I
said you look vaguely familiar, but the guy I remember was 40 or 50
pounds heavier. He said I’m that guy. You had the federal district judge
threaten to issue a contempt order to get the government to give me the
services I needed. They did so, and I want you to know that I’ve been
drug-free now for 31 years, and I am now a supervisor for the District of
Columbia government breaking up youth gangs in the District of
Columbia. That is a real-life experience.
MR. MARMON: That’s a great story.
JUDGE BURNETT: My wife tells me that she does not like to go shopping with me because I
walk down the street, I walk into a store, and someone comes over and
taps me on the shoulder and says hey, “Judge, you turned my life around.”
She said she cannot go out shopping incognito without people knowing
who she is when she is with me. She likes to go shopping without people
watching her and pointing her out as Judge Burnett’s wife.
MR. MARMON: I want to turn now to the issue of your handling of civil cases as a
magistrate judge in conducting pretrial and settlement conferences.
JUDGE BURNETT: When I was first appointed as a United States Magistrate in 1969, the U.S.
District Court in the District of Columbia had a gentleman called Pretrial
Examiner, who handled pretrial matters in civil cases. In view of the
scope of the Federal Magistrates Act and the pilot program which was
being implemented, the Board of Judges of the Federal Court decided to
phase out the Pretrial Examiner position and turned the functions of
handling civil pretrial issues like compelling production of documents and
records, or answers to interrogatories, or holding a pretrial conference,
and putting together a Pretrial Order that outlined what the issues in the
case are and problems in the areas The federal District Court judges thus
decided that these were functions to be turned over to United States
Magistrates. They decided to transfer those functions to U.S. Magistrates
to do. Initially the District Court was assigned two United States
Magistrates, but with the assignment of civil pretrial matters to the
magistrates, a third position was then authorized.
I recall one case where I got a call from a lawyer in London in
which his representation was that I had gotten a gotten a civil case settled
they thought could not be settled. I developed a reputation that if a case
could not be settled, send it to Judge Burnett and he will get it settled.
Many of the federal judges had criminal cases, especially where the
defendants had to have trial in 90 days, and they turned their civil cases to
me. I had several hundred civil cases on my docket as a magistrate, with a
reputation if Judge Burnett couldn’t get the case to settle it can’t be settled.
I developed a reputation of being the moot court judge, and
lawyers would present their cases before me with reference to everything
except actually presenting the witness live. They’d say witness so-and-so
would testify A, B, C, D, and we’d have certain documents to back them
up, and we’d hear the cases like they were moot courting the case.
So we developed that practice also in the U.S. District Court as a
model for the nation, and that process then began to be emulated all over
America in the magistrates system. As a result of that, I don’t recall
having a total number, but many magistrate judges throughout the federal
system became prime candidates and became U.S. District Court judges as
a result of the magistrate system being, you might say, an apprentice
system for federal judgeships.
And indeed, a couple magistrate judge colleagues became U.S.
Court of Appeals judges and several became United States District Court
judges. So that’s how the system evolved.
MR. MARMON: When you became a judge in the Superior Court for District of Columbia
you continued to apply these principles to your judicial work. Tell us how
that worked.
JUDGE BURNETT: Again, in the Superior Court, I carried over some of the practices that I
developed as a U.S. Magistrate. By that time, Congress had attached the
name “judge” to the U.S. Magistrate judge system with reference to
pretrial practices, bail practices, and so forth, and with reference to
handling criminal cases in Superior Court. When I put a person on
probation, I put a person on probation with incentives in the probation.
I’m going to put you on probation for five years, but if you do not violate
the conditions of probation, if you do not commit new crimes, your
probation shall terminate in one year or two years, depending on the risk
factors I saw in the individual. And indeed in the meantime, to make sure
the probation officer and people will give you the services, I’m going to
set a review hearing, and at the time of sentencing, I want to see you in 60
days just for a review, apart from the family law system and the abuse
cases, how a family is doing, to how the probationer is doing on probation.
Indeed, I think I mentioned on a previous occasion that I had one
case of a woman who had two daughters who, my recollection was, were
twins, about 14 or 15 years of age, and she was an alcoholic and a drug
user. I said your daughters are going to end up being prostitutes and drug
users like you are. I said that if this does not happen and they get to be 18
years of age, adults without this happening, I’ll give them a birthday party
here in my courtroom. Lo’ and behold, I think I told the story before,
when they got to be 18 years of age, one was about to become a
Metropolitan Police Department Officer Cadet and the other one was in
college. Instead of becoming prostitutes and drug users like their mother,
they turned their lives around. In the course of the two- or three-year
period, I had periodic review hearings, and they were doing well.
Since I have been doing non-profit work, I got a call one day, four
or five years after I left Superior Court, from a lady saying, “Judge, you
don’t remember me, but I’m such-and-such a person. I want you to know
that I recovered from my drug and alcohol problems, and I purchased my
first house in my life, and my daughters are doing great.”
So that’s an example of what we were able to accomplish. As a
matter of fact, since we started these sessions, I have on frequent
occasions closed my eyes and thought back and say do I or can I recall
even one case where I had to revoke someone’s probation because they
committed a crime while on probation by me, and I can’t. I cannot think
of a single case where I put a person on release where they committed a
new crime and I had to revoke a pretrial release, or I had to revoke
MR. MARMON: The last thing in this area we want to do is we want to talk about the list of
cases that we put in the appendix of your opinions as a Superior Court
judge. Tell us how that came about.
JUDGE BURNETT: To my surprise, we had a Superior Court magistrate by the name of
Ronald Goodbread who was a very scholarly young man, and indeed he
should have been elevated to become a full-fledged judge. He decided to
put together a compendium, a book, on the history of the Superior Court
judges who issued opinions since the Superior Court was created in 1970.
Lo’ and behold, I get in the mail this notebook which lists all of the judges
on Superior Court from its inception in 1970 to 2002, which was even
after I left the court to become a senior judge. To my surprise, in going
through that book for preparation here, I discovered that I had 107 cases in
which I had written opinions. It looks like at this point I may have been
the most prolific judge on the court in writing legal opinions of all the
judges between 1970 and the year 2000. I counted the number of entries,
and there are 107 opinions that I wrote that were published in the
Washington Daily Law Reporter as published opinions.
That reminded me. When I was in the federal court, I wrote
opinions on pretrial issues in civil cases, and they were published in the
Federal Rules Decisions. I had 40 opinions actually reported in the
Federal Rules Decisions bound volumes as the pretrial discovery judge in
the federal court system. But it looks like I may have been the most
prolific opinion writer in the history of the Superior Court in the District
of Columbia.
MR. MARMON: We have posted those 107 references as an appendix to this oral history.
JUDGE BURNETT: I got a call in 2014 while on sabbatical doing non-profit work asking if I
would like to be the chair of a commission created by the Episcopal
Church of America. I said I’m Catholic not Episcopal, and they said with
your civil rights history and your academic and intellectual ability, leads
us to want to appoint you to be the chair of a commission called
Organization for Procedural Justice in America set up by the Episcopal
Church of America. I said I think the title should be broadened to be not
only procedural justice but substantive justice as well.
In October of 2014, I was invited to Cincinnati, Ohio, to the
Southern Diocese of Ohio to a formal ceremony where I was
commissioned as an Episcopal Lay Minister with the consent of the
Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church also being a co-partner to come
up with a much like the Kerner Commission to come up with
recommendations for amendments to the United States Constitution to
number one, amend the 13th Amendment to eliminate slavery and
involuntary servitude, even in prison, to turn our prisons into the
equivalent of a community college, trade or technology schools, so when
people go to prison and they then thereafter get released, they are trained
and educated to be qualified for the jobs and employment that exist in the
21st Century and to do like Germany and a number of countries have done
is to prepare prison inmates to be competitive once they are released from
prison, look at the Second Amendment to deal with gun violence in
America, and to deal with abuses of stop and frisks and to deal with racial
and religious profiling in law enforcement. So I put together a
commission, and in addition to the Catholic Church, all the other churches
and religions to come together to come up with recommendations for
Amendments to the United States Constitution, as to the Thirteenth
Amendment, as to the Second Amendment, as to whether Scalia’s decision
is correct and whether it originally was intended to deal with the National
Guard and militia approaches as to who would be allowed to have guns
and to deal with Fourth Amendment, stop and frisk and stops based on
religious profiling or national origin and to deal with the First
Amendment to protect privacy, and deal with issues of obscenity and
human trafficking in the United States.
We started putting together a Commission divided into three
separate subcommittees. One subcommittee to be constitutional scholars
like Larry Tribe and Nathaniel Jones, Charles Ogletree, constitutional
scholars, of 25 to 30 individuals. A second group of representatives, one
or two representatives of every major religion in the country. And a third
group of millennials from age 16 to 40, young professional, college
graduates, and so forth, who would talk about what they’d like to see the
U.S. Constitution to be. Then all three of these groups, ideas and
recommendations would be merged into a report to the President and to
both Houses of Congress.
In view of the current political climate, that project has been put on
hold for now. But I have been asked to head that whole Commission
The Southern Diocese recommended that this Commission be
ratified by Michael Carey, who heads the entire Episcopal Church. The
convention of the Episcopal Church ratified its existence, but right now
we’re keeping a low profile in view of the political climate that exists right
So that’s the biggest challenge I have in front of me, and indeed, if
we end up with a Democratic president in 2020, it may become very
MR. MARMON: That’s fascinating. Very interesting.
JUDGE BURNETT: And like I said, this call came out of the clear blue sky saying we want
you to chair this Commission.
MR. MARMON: And the other big issue?
JUDGE BURNETT: Is whether or not we should abolish preemptory challenges and eliminate
the need to provide that poor people can serve on juries with the provisor
that the federal and state government will reimburse them for their day
wages to get a real blend of total objectivity as to police brutality issues,
credibility of witnesses, so that our jury service will be like the military
service, and unless you are physically and mentally incapable, you serve.
I’m going to have legal research assistants to some research on what’s
happening in England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, any other
countries have abolished preemptory challenges to exclude people living
below the poverty line or have a disparate impact who serves on juries.
MR. MARMON: Who’s the sponsor of this activity?
JUDGE BURNETT: This will be done through the American Bar Association, and I’ll be the
lead author on a proposed article dealing with that issue.
People want me to sit down and write my memoirs, but with all
this other work, I haven’t had time to do that. So I have those three big
challenges in front of me at this point.
Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is William Marmon and the
interviewee is Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr. The interview took place at the home of William
Marmon on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. This is the fifth interview.
MR. MARMON: Good morning, Judge.
JUDGE BURNETT: Good morning.
MR. MARMON: Today we’re going to talk about the activities that you’ve been engaged in
since you left the D.C. bench. We also want to talk about your very
interesting family. So let’s talk first about the activities and organizations
that you have been involved in since you left the bench, and if you can
give dates, I think that would be helpful too.
JUDGE BURNETT: As of August 1, 2004, I took a sabbatical as a senior judge, still retaining
the title of senior judge, but on sabbatical for what I thought would be a
limited period of a year or two years to organize and to get the National
African-American Drug Policy Coalition to begin to realize its mission. In
addition, we appointed a blue-ribbon commission of prominent AfricanAmerican leaders to come up with what the goals and objectives of the
coalition should be.
The coalition was headed by a former mayor of Houston, Texas,
Lee P. Brown, and a deputy who was Beny Primm, who had been an
official with the U.S. government in drug prevention and treatment here in
nearby Maryland. That commission held a number of hearings around the
country. I served as the Executive Director of this blue ribbon
Commission to hear witnesses throughout the nation to develop the
mission and objectives of the National African-American Drug Policy
This commission operated for a period of about two years, and at
the end of two years, we moved forward to seek incorporation under
District of Columbia law as a non-profit corporation. On January 12,
2006, it was incorporated in the District of Columbia and by Letter of
August 39, 2006 was granted its Federal non-profit status under Section
501(C3) of the Internal Revenue Code retroactive to the date of
As a result of this blue-ribbon commission’s work, I prepared a
Commission’s Report that set forth five major objectives or missions of
the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition. The first objective
was to get the United States government, and indeed the states, to treat
drug addiction and dependency as a health issue and that deal with persons
who possess or deal in illegal drugs in a public health manner rather than
just sent back and forth to prison. These people should be treated like
persons asserting the insanity defense. I relied on a case out of the
Supreme Court of the United States that arose out of California titled
California v. Robinson, which said that the state could not punish a person
for being a vandal based on the status of being a narcotic addict. So I
urged that addiction and possession of drugs should be treated as a public
health matter rather than bouncing people in and out of jail, “doing life on
the installment plan.” I recall that was the phrase we coined at that point,
by way of repeated incarcerations of people who were addicted or so
dependent that they could not control their conduct. Thus our number one
role was to convince the federal government, and even state governments,
to start looking at treatment when the offense of possession was due to a
craving or a compulsion to use drugs. So that ended up being our number
one mission.
Our number two mission was to deal effectively with prevention,
and specifically on how to prevent our teenage youngsters from
experimenting with drugs and becoming more or less addicted and adding
to the addiction population. We came to the conclusion that we could not
just take a negative approach and tell them just don’t do it, or what I call
the Nancy Reagan approach, that it’s bad, or it’s sinful, just don’t do it.
We concluded that we needed to tie to this concept an added concept of
self-improvement, and of achievement and education, that our prevention
programs go forward more with a concept of encouraging our teenagers,
our youth, that they can get more out of life by pursuing high quality
education, like they want to excel in music or athletic activities, so that
affirmative action would not even be necessary because they could prove
they could be just as outstanding in educational achievement as Blacks.
So we took an approach saying we will create speakers bureaus where
Blacks who have overcome poverty and become doctors, lawyers, social
workers, and in other professional fields would go to schools and give
motivational talks and be role models, would become guidance counselors
to our youth or even mentors to youth who needed tutoring or where
parental control was not up to normal expectation. Basically that
objective, the number two objective, probably is about fifty percent of the
work of the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
Further, this program could also include Internships and apprentice roles
for these youth who respond to our motivational speakers and potential
The third objective was that we were based at Howard University
Law School. Howard University Law School had been a leader in
Brown v. Board of Education and in dealing with NAACP to promote civil
rights and eliminate prejudice and discrimination and that the National
African-American Drug Policy Coalition would be based at Howard
University Law School as a legal think tank for Black America, much like
the Congressional Research Service. Indeed, we worked out with the
Dean,, at that point Dean Kurt Schmoke, that the law students at Howard
who had maintained or were able to achieve a 3.0 GPA out of a 4.0 scale
could end up working as legal research assistants to me as the Executive
Director on proposed legislation in Congress, or in state legislatures, or
cases in appellate courts. That was our number three mission.
Next we focused on the Second Chance Act that had been
promoted by Congressman Danny Davis, and now Senator Roth, which
was passed to determine how do we deal with giving people who had been
in incarcerated a second chance to turn their lives around upon being
released from incarceration to return to our communities. We came up
with the concept that when a parent gets out of prison, let us connect him
or her with his or her sons and daughters to influence them not to make
the mistakes they made. But even more important, we stressed that if a
father or mother got out of prison and saw his or her children being
successful, being outstanding in sports, athletic activities, and student
school activities, this would be an influence on him or her to not commit
new crimes and go back to prison and be deprived of seeing and being part
of their children’s lives. Further affirmative assistance would be given the
father and mother to obtain a decent residence and employment or to enter
training for a job in which there would be employment for him or her.
So this fourth principal of implementing the Second Chance Act
was to reconnect, or to connect, a father with his child to prevent the child
from falling into the trap of criminal activity to engage juvenile delinquent
behavior, and influence the father to say “I want to be a part of my child’s
life, and therefore I’m not going to engage in burglaries or robberies or
selling drugs. I’m going to set a good example for my son or my daughter
so they don’t end up being subjected to the prison life that I had as an
inmate.” The press does not tell you this, but many inmates get out of
prison, and when they get out of prison, they find a son or a daughter
they’d never even seen who is now nine, ten, eleven years of age. They
connect with the child, and then they say I want to work with other
children. We had many inmates who have created non-profit or
community organizations to work with youngsters to influence them to not
engage in crime and delinquent behaviors and to inspire and motivate
them to achieve.
Only this past week during Halloween I attended two sessions
organized by a man who had been in prison eleven years who now works
with the police department to prevent these youngsters from committing
juvenile delinquency offenses such as shoplifting, or breaking into
people’s cars and influencing them to engage in good behaviors.
Then, of course, to further implement the Second Chance Act, we
came up with a fifth goal. That was to persuade businessmen, members of
the Kiwanis, Chambers of Commerce and other professional groups not to
slam the doors in faces of people who get out of prison, but in order to
improve the quality of life of both the returning citizens from prison and
preventing their children from committing crime, evaluate a person as an
individual, his present value system, and his objectives. Interview that
person and decide whether that person indeed has so changed so that
person can be employed, given a working life, made to feel like he has a
mission or a purpose in life. Indeed in my travels around the country, I
had an individual businessman tell me “My director was a former inmate.
I trust him more than I trust my own son. He is producing more for me in
running an operation than people who have never been in trouble.” We
have had testimonies from corporate executives who have said this person
you never would have known that he had been in trouble based on where
he is now and how well he does his job.
I and other representatives of the National African-American Drug
Policy Coalition, Inc. speak at Kiwanis Club meetings and Chambers of
Commerce and other business groups. Indeed, right now in the City of
Baltimore, I’m urging the Black Chamber of Commerce this coming
summer to find ten or twenty young black boys to work as assistants in
CVS stores and other business operations, so instead of vandalism and
burning down stores, they see what proprietors have to do and how
valuable they are to the welfare of the entire community.
During the Obama administration, I was able to persuade it to
allow me to persuade the Small Business Administration to consider
giving loans to former inmates who want to start businesses. We had one
gentleman in Florida who indeed developed such a reputation that people
call him and ask him if he had trained any former inmates he could refer to
them to use in their businesses. I even recommended this individual to
President Barack Obama and the White House staff to be recognized for
his outstanding achievements.
In another situation, in the state of North Carolina, I have a
gentleman who was in prison in New Jersey as a young man. Today he
has won awards for running a company which employs former inmates
collecting the garbage of the city of Charlotte He runs environmental
cleanup in Charlotte, North Carolina that’s been praised by the Governor
and other leaders of the state of North Carolina. Further, he is now a
Minister of the Gospel and a very religious person.
MR. MARMON: Let’s talk about the One Hundred Fathers group.
JUDGE BURNETT: Before we leave that, let me indicate that the coalition concept was the
idea of bringing together all of the national Black or African-American
organizations that touch on the lives of minority people going through life,
and so we set out to not only deal with involving the National Bar
Association and African-American lawyers, which was the organizationwhich came up with this concept and served as the catalyst to bring in the
National Organization of Black Psychologists, the Black Psychiatrists, the
National Association of Black Social Workers, the National Organization
of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Black Prosecutors
and other organizations of individuals concerned with civil rights and the
criminal justice system. In the process during these two years, my duties
involved me reaching out to the presidents of these various organizations,
telling them what our mission was and inviting them to become members
of the coalition, much like the states are part of the United States, or like
nations are part of the United Nations organization, with the concept being
that these organizations would share their objectives and missions to work
in unity on policy issues law applications and in our entire juvenile and
criminal justice system in the United States of America. Initially we set
out to come up with at least fifteen such organizations and then we were
going to incorporate. By July of 2005, we had fifteen, but we had eight
more saying wait up, Judge Burnett, “We want to consider joining the
Coalition and have our boards vote on whether we should become
members.” We held up until January of 2006 when we had a total of
twenty-three member organizations dealing with health, criminal and these
consultants do the work contemplated by the grants. Constitution and
social policy, coming together as a major coalition.
MR. MARMON: Do you have any central staff?
JUDGE BURNETT: We had a staff at Howard Law School that consisted of a professor, Dr.
Jean Bailey, Ph.D. and her assistant, and then I had a young lawyer,
Marshella Toldson, who has been with us since that time and who now is
part of the regular staff. As a matter of fact, as of today, the National
African-American Drug Policy Coalition has a total of six grants, and the
administrative assistant to Dr. Bailey is Ms. Rosalee Morris. They are the
key people. There are a number of consultants doing the actual work
required by the grants. These consultants work as staff and are paid
consultants, as contractors, not employees, under the grants under my
oversight and the staff listed above. These grants provide in their content
a budget for retaining social workers, psychologists and others to end up
being the outreach people to deal with youngsters to present programs and
engage in activity, including arranging for counsellor mentors and social
workers, family counselors and other needs of the individuals. This is
where the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America come in and other
mentoring groups with whom we have established a coordinating
relationship. Thus we have entered a Memorandum of Understanding
with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and also collaborate with other
groups such as 100 Black Men of America and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
for mentor-counselors in connection with the needs of youth with whom
we work. These are referred to as MOU relationships of community
organizations working together to meet the needs of children who get into
trouble. So they became and are today a supporting organization of the
National African-American Drug Policy Coalition.
In addition to the national organization, the concept was developed
of creating local chapters. Local chapters are to be affiliates, much like
the American Medical Association may have in a town or city or state
local medical association or like the National Bar Association having local
chapters in the states and cities of the United States. Over the initial two
years, we developed a total of twenty-three local chapters, a couple being
statewide and others in cities or towns or portions of a state. For example,
in North Carolina, Reverend Joseph Robinson who I previously mentioned
is the chapter leader for the entire state. He hires ex-offenders to clean up
the city of Charlotte and has received praised for it. He has been
recognized and asked to be a consultant in many other states. In
California, on the other hand, there are three separate chapters. In Texas,
there are two, one in Dallas and the other in Houston. In Chicago and in,
Detroit. I have local groups of ten, twelve, fifteen black leaders all
working together to achieve the five-point objective programs of the
National African-American Drug Policy Coalition. I have so much I could
use three or four more people as administrative staff people just to keep up
with everything that we are doing.
MR. MARMON: What about the One Hundred Fathers Group?
JUDGE BURNETT: One Hundred Fathers, Incorporated, is another group – separate -in which I
was asked to be the chairperson in connection with the Coalition’s group
of getting fathers coming out of prison involved with their children.
Indeed, they are a supporting organization to connect fathers that they
work with to become involved with their children and work with our on
our common goals and objectives.
As a matter of fact, we had one instance where the D.C.
government initially had a policy of not allowing ex-offenders to do
voluntary work in schools. We got them to change that policy, and one of
our gentlemen became so popular with the school to which he was
permitted to work in that the grades of the kids went up astronomically,
and the behavior of the kids went up astronomically in that school. And
now the school system has a policy of evaluating the individual father,
even though he’s been in prison, as to operations of the school. There was
one ceremony two or three years ago where the father of the year had been
a former inmate whose son, as I recall, was finishing college that year and
his daughter was getting a master’s degree. He was such a successful
counsellor-mentor that, like the pied piper, he has kids following him
everywhere he wants to go. He was recognized as being father of the year,
yet he had been a prison inmate. We don’t hear about these success
stories but they do exist. And like Saul becoming Paul and a leader for
Jesus Christ. Many former inmates leave prison and come out and do
greater work with our youth to keep them out of trouble than many adults
who have had no serious trouble involvement with the criminal justice
MR. MARMON: What about the Global Youth for Justice Program?
JUDGE BURNETT: The Global Youth Justice Program is one that was started by a gentleman
named Scott Peterson, who had been a project manager for the Justice
Department under Janet Reno and leading up to the first President Bush’s
Administration. He was the whistleblower on the Bush Administration
favoring giving grants to Cal Ripken and Republican supporters rather
than on merit of evaluation of their grant applications for programs for
youth which did not deal with kids that really needed the services. It just
so happened through my connections with Marian Wright Edelman, that I
got to know Hillary Clinton and involved with the Office for Juvenile
Justice Delinquency Prevention, I came to the attention of Shay Bilchik,
the administrator and Attorney General Janet Reno, and also Scott
Peterson at that time. When Scott Peterson left the Justice Department
and decided to go out on his own and to create the Youth Court program
he learned of me and my interest in juvenile justice and youth courts he
asked me to be kind of a scholar in residence, to be the person who would
come out and give talks to training institutes. Indeed, I swore in on one
occasion when Janet Reno was Attorney General, the Advisory Council l
on juvenile justice matters and participated in its proceedings. So going
back some 12-15 years s, I almost became someone like his deputy or vice
president in running training institute programs and to create diversion
programs for youngsters who get in trouble. We emphasized in those
training sessions rather than sending youth to pre-hearing detention, let’s
get the family and kid the services needed so the kid doesn’t go deeper
into the process and commit further juvenile delinquent offenses.
As a result of that program, I would travel to Cape Cod,
Massachusetts and give lectures once or twice a year to training institute
programs for people who wanted to start these programs, or to Las Vegas,
Nevada for such training institute programs. I was Scott’s scholar in
residence and theory person for the last ten or eleven years. Three years
ago, he incorporated under Massachusetts law. Before that, it had been an
LLC. Now he has become a Section 501(C)(3) corporation, and I am the
Vice President of Policy for the corporation and his key scholar in
residence. As a matter of fact, I’m to fly to Las Vegas for such an Institute
program the first week of December to address an audience of about 125
individuals who run youth courts programs around the country. The
organization has now grown to a point where it has over 1,800 youth court
operations affiliated with it throughout the United States and a few
internationally, and it has come to the attention of the United Nations. On
Friday, Scott Peterson will be here with me, and we will put on a youth
court demonstration model on Friday, November 8, 2019 in the afternoon
at the hotel where the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice
Section is meeting. In addition, at the luncheon, I’m receiving the Charles
English Award with is the highest award the Criminal Justice Section
gives for someone promoting juvenile justice in America. I’m the senior
chairperson of the Alternative Dispute and Juvenile Justice Committee for
the Criminal Justice Section writer, and I’m the judicial author of the first
article in that publication, a quarterly publication issued just before the
annual meeting of the ABA.
MR. MARMON: Thank you. We’ll put the citation in the transcript. Innovation in
Reducing Juvenile Crime and Recidivism, author Laura Lothman Lambert
with perspective from the bench by the Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, Sr.
That article is in Criminal Justice magazine, Volume 34, Summer 2019, at
Pages 4–9
What about Stem4?
JUDGE BURNETT: STEM4 is a non-profit in which I think I got involved in both because of
my relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Its
organization became one of the original members of the National AfricanAmerican Drug Policy Coalition. As a result of that relationship working
with Black members of Congress and with the idea of promoting black
educational excellence, I met a gentleman named Talib Karim who had
been chief counsel to Sheila Jackson Lee with reference to getting the Fair
Sentencing Act of 2010 passed to reduce the disparity between crack
cocaine and powder cocaine. So based on that relationship, as well as the
fact that my son the principal inventor of Viagra, he figured that he would
want me to be a part of the group that he was establishing to promote
engineering, computer literacy and technology, literacy on modern
electronics, to promote and encourage African-American youth to
consider careers in science and technology so we would not have to rely
on bringing people here from foreign countries who have relatives back in
those countries who some time may be subject to pressure and duress that
lead to national security issues. So he asked me to be on the board of
directors, and I said, “I’m on too many organizations now.” so he said how
about making you chair of my advisory committee because of your
network and the fact that you have a son who is an inventor of Viagra
which indicates your promotion of science.
So that’s how I ended up being pulled into STEM to influence
more young African-American youth with their talent for engineering,
science, electronics, or related fields to be exposed, and even if you come
from poverty backgrounds, where they don’t know their fathers, we’ll give
them a counselor mentor.in the area of the talent of the youth. In my case,
for example, my oldest daughter, when she was 14, had a summer
internship at NASA and then she did an internship with Congresswoman
Linda Boggs, and now she’s a lawyer in four different states and D.C. and
a CPA. The point is I don’t just talk the game, I did it with my children.
MR. MARMON: As if that’s not enough, Judge, I see here you are a co-author of a book
called Pieces Never Missing Required in a Child’s Life with Dwayne
Meeks and Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. Tell us how that came about.
JUDGE BURNETT: I met Dwayne Meeks at a conference in Arizona or one of the western
states put on my Fathers and Families Coalition of America. He was a
lecturer, and he had heard me talk about the mission of the National
African-American Drug Policy Coalition and getting fathers involved with
their children to keep them from getting involved in juvenile delinquency
offences. He said “I’m going to write a book because I have four sons and
I have worked with them and they are all straight-“A” students, and I want
to influence other youth and their fathers to do the same, and what your
organization is doing and your background as a judge in family court and
juvenile matters and your own family,, I’m going to write a book, and I
want you to write the foreword. I agreed. He sent me a first draft, and I
thought maybe I should reflect my own experience and integrate my own
experience with my own five children as well as what I’ve seen on the
bench in dealing with child and family matters and dealing with family
and domestic violence issues and so forth. So I approached him about
doing what we’re doing now here. Let me add some insights or
perspectives from the judge’s point of view and so forth. So what started
out as a project for me to write a foreword ended up being a blended book.
He suggested I insert my comments in each of his proposed chapters. It
ended up being two co-authors that reflects his experience with his
children and, indeed, the book has gotten such attention that I was invited
to be a speaker at a Colorado Department of Education program institute
to promote minority youth going into excellence in education. While there
for that session, I met the governor of the state. It was in January, and that
weekend was the celebration of Martin Luther King Day. Since I was
there, I was invited to come to it and be there. And then during the course
of that day, people called the governor’s attention to me being there, and I
was asked to make comments about Martin Luther King and to address an
audience of a crowd of several hundred people. When I finished, the
governor said “Judge Burnett, if you were a resident of Colorado, I’d
make you an aide in my office and have you speak to crowds like this
every day of the week.” And then Mr. Meeks said “Judge Burnett, I want
to organize a chapter of the National African-American Drug Policy
Coalition.” He then took me around and introduced me to chiefs of police,
and now he has a state-wide chapter of the National African-American
Drug Policy Coalition, and as of only two months ago, he has a
contractual relationship with the Department of Corrections for the whole
state of Colorado where they are interested in buying this book to give to
every inmate in the prison system to encourage them to work with their
children when they get out of prison, to change their lives to avoid
recidivism and be part of their children’s lives.
So in the state of Colorado, this book is being considered to be
given to every prison inmate as to how they should relate to their children
when they get out of prison. That project is under way now with the
American Correctional Association as to whether this book can be used to
change the lives of prison inmates who have children and when they get
out of prison, not only improve their own lives, but also influence them to
influence their youngsters to reduce mass incarceration in America.
MR. MARMON: This was published in 2017.
JUDGE BURNETT: Right. So that’s how that book came about.
MR. MARMON: Now I’d like to move on to get your accounting of your quite remarkable
family starting with your wife and then your five children. Tell us a little
bit about your wife and then go on to your five kids.
JUDGE BURNETT: I was in California in the military and was supposed to have Thanksgiving
dinner in November 1959 with a fellow named Milton McGee who had
been a Black attorney who had been selected for Attorney General Honors
Program the same time I had been selected in June of 1958. He was
married and had two small children. I was supposed to have Thanksgiving
dinner with them, but the children came down with the flu, and they said
we don’t want to invite you here and give you the flu. My wife has a
girlfriend who can meet you and show you around San Francisco since
you’ve never been here on the west coast. That girlfriend turned out to
become my wife. She ended up giving me a tour of San Francisco, and we
started chatting. She was very interesting, so on weekends after
Thanksgiving of 1959, I would go up to the San Francisco and Oakland
area and visit with her. She was a nurse who specialized in premature
babies nursing and nutrition. She had taken courses here and there,
enough that if she had taken them in sequence, she probably could have
earned a Ph.D. She had even gone to New Orleans and worked at Charity
Hospital and taken courses at Xavier University and had been very
studious/. Along about mid-January, we started talking about we could do
this together, we could do that together. I don’t even remember
proposing. We just evolved into an acceptance of together for future
endeavors. So I remember in January saying maybe we should go tell
your mother and step-father that we are contemplating getting married.
That’s how this came about. I don’t remember even thinking about
proposing or how to propose. It just evolved.
MR. MARMON: That’s wonderful. Where were you married?
JUDGE BURNETT: So then came May 14, 1960 and we were married at St. Augustine’s
Catholic Church in Oakland, on the border of Berkeley and Oakland,
while I was still in the military service. When I finished my two-year
service obligation she came back with me to Washington, D.C. when I
came back to the Justice Department. Then we started having children.
MR. MARMON: Her name is Frisbieann, right? And her maiden name is what?
JUDGE BURNETT: Lloyd. Her birth certificate shows she’s Native American. She looks like
she’s from India.
MR. MARMON: So you started having children?
JUDGE BURNETT: Right. We had our oldest daughter, and then a year-and-a-half later, our
first son. A year after that, a second son. And then two years later in 1965
we had our second daughter. So in five years, we had four children.
MR. MARMON: They have had pretty amazing careers themselves.
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. My wife, once the children got to be school age and she wasn’t tied
up taking care of the kids, with her nursing background and specialization
with children, she volunteered to be the nurse for a Catholic school,
Blessed Sacrament School here in Washington, D.C., that my children
attended. From there, as they got older, during the Clinton
Administration, she volunteered to be a correspondent secretary with
youth and worked in the White House as a volunteer two or three days a
week and also worked with kids from people who worked in embassies
and so forth. So that’s been her kind of path, being a nurse volunteer, and
because of her specialization, people think they are talking to a medical
doctor. So that’s basically been her career and encouraging each of our
five children to excel in all of their studies and activities.
Then, of course, with our children coming along, I ended up
working with the scout master at Blessed Sacrament, Troop 90, and ended
up being assistant scout master. The scoutmaster had a serious heart
problem so he couldn’t do all the physical things that scouts do like
climbing around, taking hikes, other heavy duties. I took on those duties
and used vacation time off from work to lead the demanding scout
activities. I was in my career at the Justice Department I would time my
vacation time for a week in the wilderness. Then my older son, who was
so precocious that by the time he was 13 years of age, he had earned his
Eagle badge. And then the other one said if he can do it, I can do it too, so
he set out to do the same thing. Then they were in little league football
and sports activities where I was the coach and in football games
frequently the referee on the field.
MR. MARMON: I want to get some details about these kids. So your daughter, your oldest
daughter, what’s she up to now?
JUDGE BURNETT: My oldest daughter went to Catholic schools then finished that and went
on to VPI first when she thought she wanted to be an engineer. But she
ran into certain race issues and so forth, and even though at VPI some
people thought she was Spanish because she’s light-complexioned and
brunette hair and so forth. One situation at VPI, she had Caucasian
girlfriends that when I brought her back for her sophomore year, they were
helping her unload the car and take her stuff up to the dorm room she’d be
in, and when they finished unloading the car, my daughter called her
girlfriends over and said let me introduce you to my dad. One of them
without thinking, I think, said oh, I thought he was your chauffer. They
didn’t even realize that she was black. They thought she was Spanish.
One of them asked how’d you enjoy her summer in Spain.
MR. MARMON: What’s her name?
JUDGE BURNETT: This is Christa. Darnellena Christalynn Burnett “Darnellena” is a
combination of two grandmothers’ names, so we merged the two names.
So her first name is Darnellena and the second name is Christalynn, Christ
with a. She’s the one that went to VPI, was going to study and do work in
engineering, with a NASA and space exploration internship, but she was
only making C’s, and she was trying to see professors, and professors
were putting her off, so she decided to transfer from VPI to Hampton, a
Black college, and there she excelled in math and finance and changed her
major to accounting and graduated with honors. Then she came back
home, worked for a while, and then said she was going to law school. She
went to George Mason School of Law and ended up being a Teaching
Assistant in Tax Law she was so good with math and financial matters.
She worked with Blue Cross initially in the interval, then she took the Bar
and passed, and she became a member of the Pennsylvania Bar first and
then she scored high enough to waive into D.C. She took the Virginia bar
and passed it, and then she went to Kentucky and passed that Bar and then
came back here and became a member of the Maryland bar. So she’s a
member of the Bar of four different states and the District of Columbia.
MR. MARMON: She’s married with kids?
JUDGE BURNETT: No. She’s single.
MR. MARMON: And now, your number one son.
JUDGE BURNETT: Number one son, he is junior, but we call him Arthur Burnett the “II”,
Roman number II. We arbitrarily did that even though Roman numbers
are usually used when you skip a generation. We deviated from that. He
was so precocious at Catholic school that we took him out and put him in
St. Anselm Abbey, which is like Sidwell Friends School for the Catholic
faith. He so excelled there that by the time he got to the last semester, he
was taking courses at Catholic University, and while still at St. Anselm
Abbey, he earned about 25 hours of college credits at Catholic, then went
on to Princeton and started anew, and at Princeton excelled to a point
where he ended up graduating number two in his class.
MR. MARMON: At Princeton he knew Michelle Obama?
JUDGE BURNETT: When he was a sophomore, he was assigned to be her big brother. And
also he was captain of the lightweight football team. He ended up
graduating number two in his class at Princeton.
MR. MARMON: Do you remember what year?
JUDGE BURNETT: I think it was 1984. And then he checked out different medical schools
and ended up choosing Johns Hopkins. While at Johns Hopkins, he asked
to continue his research as to nitroxide and so forth, and Hopkins said we
normally don’t allow first-year medical students to engage in medical
research, but since your record is so exceptional, we will make an
exception and assign Dr. Snyder to be your monitor. He applied to Pfizer
for research grant money and that led to the invention of Viagra.
MR. MARMON: Expand on that a little bit. That’s quite interesting.
JUDGE BURNETT: As a result of getting approval to do his research at Johns Hopkins, he
approached Pfizer to provide money for his research project at Hopkins
with Dr. Snyder being the faculty member that oversaw him, and he had
two research assistants, and the four of them worked together.
MR. MARMON: This was while he was in medical school?
JUDGE BURNETT: Yes. And he developed the signs how to create the nitroxide compound,
the necessary ingredient for enhancing male virility and abilities and
resulted in the patent for Viagra.
MR. MARMON: He’s a patent holder?
JUDGE BURNETT: He’s the number two name on the patent. He gets a percentage. And then
he went on and became a surgeon in urology in prostate cancer as well.
MR. MARMON: Very well known.
JUDGE BURNETT: Apparently in connection with that, he developed techniques which the
urology professors say puts him at the top of the profession. He’s the one
that operated on Senator Bob Dole and, Senator Sarbanes. He’s operated
on many members of Congress and federal judges and, indeed, the King of
Saudi Arabia. He was 90 years old, and he kept him alive until he was 95,
is my recollection.
MR. MARMON: So that’s Arthur Burnett II. Who’s next?
JUDGE BURNETT: Next is Darryl Lawford Burnett, and believe it or not, he was born only a
year after Arthur minus one week, so for one week, they’re both the same
age. I thought giving him the middle name Lawford he would go into law,
but he decided to go into the public health field and medical arena.
He ended up going to Hampton and was very much involved in
political activities and student activities while there. He wasn’t really that
stressed out. He was a B student because he was so much involved in
student activities and so forth. Then he went on to Tulane where he got
ambitious to be a doctor and a public health professional, and he was
enrolled in both schools. In medical school, he was only making C’s, but
making top grades in the public health field. He ended up taking a leave
of absence from medical school and finished in public health where he got
a masters in two disciplines with honors, and then he was going to go back
to medical school when the University of Maryland contacted him and
said are you interested in being a professor here to deal with preventing
future deaths like Lenny Bias’s death. So he was brought in to the
University of Maryland. At the time, he was thinking about transferring to
medical school to finish medical school, and they said we’ll provide
further education, so he decided to go with Maryland and was at the
University of Maryland, and while there, he ended up teaching, also as a
part time student, and enrolled in a combined PhD program, and with the
University of Maryland and Hopkins, and then worked on a Ph.D. degree.
So as a result of that, he ended up, I don’t know how, but meeting
David Satcher. Satcher invited him to be a special assistant when Satcher
was Surgeon General. Then he was going to go back to Maryland, but
then the Secretary of Health and Human Services offered him a job to be a
deputy administrator of community health centers, so he never got back to
Maryland, and today he’s a deputy administrator over all community
health centers in the entire United States.
MR. MARMON: Who’s the next one?
JUDGE BURNETT: The next one is Darlisa Ann Burnett. She dropped the Dar part and just
goes by Lisa. She’s an economist. She went to Howard for
undergraduate, graduating magna cum laude, then went on to Purdue and
got a master’s degree with honors. As a result of that, Ford Motor
Company hired her, and then she’s gone through the ranks at Ford where
she’s a major buyer of steel products for Ford.
MR. MARMON: There’s one more, right?
JUDGE BURNETT: Right. Seven-and-a-half years later, my wife got pregnant. This daughter
ended up being very precocious, being a straight-A student. Dionne
Elizabeth. She had a deep interest in animals. Like the bird man of
Alcatraz, she could talk to the animals, and indeed when she was only
between one and two years of age, she was ready to ride horseback. When
she was a toddler, she would go out to the pasture where we had black
Angus cattle, and they’d come up and nuzzle her like she was a calf. She
ended up becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, went to Yale and
graduated with honors, then went to the University of California at Davis
and graduated with honors. She came back home and ended up being a
veterinarian at a place with the Metropolitan Police Department where
they had a contract to maintain their dogs. Her first job was working with
dogs at the Metropolitan Police Department, and then she decided to go to
New York. In New York, she developed such a reputation that she is
registered as a consultant to surgery of tumors and cancers of small
animals at eight veterinary hospitals and involved with the education
process for the public schools for New York City.
I continue to work with the non-profits and the organizations I’m
working with now to try to reach a point in America where we have true
democracy and respect for individuals based on ability and without race or
religion and so forth and to eliminate the weaknesses in civil rights
protections of all residents of the United States.

Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
100 Black Men of America, 119
Abramson, Fred, 55
Abramson, Shirley, 46, 98
Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 38, 41
Alex Haley Farm, 80
American Bar Association (ABA), 42-44, 92, 98, 109, 123
American Correctional Association, 127
Bail Reform Act, 42, 45-47, 93-94, 97
Bailey, Clyde, 84
Bailey, Jean, 118
Barry, Marion, 100
Bell, Griffin, 49-50, 66
Berman, Emile Zola, 14
Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, 118-19
Bilchik, Shay, 121
Boggs, Linda, 124
Boykin. Frank W., 25-28, 33
Brown v. Board of Education, (case), 3, 10-12, 113
Brown, Lee P., 110
Brownell, Herb, 13
Brucker, William, 20
Burnett, Arthur, Sr., – Personal
Air Force ROTC, 19
eyesight disqualification for pilot training, 19
Army Adjutant General Corps, Personnel Administration, 21
Benjamin F.Butler Law Club President, 16
birth, 1
Spotsylvania County, Virginia, 1
farming enterprises, 3-4, 17-18
FBI 21-26, 30-32, 75
tapes, 22
Howard University, 4, 8, 11-12, 19, 84, 113
summa cum laude, 19
Howard University Law School, 113
interest in law school, 4
JAG commission, Judge Advocate General, 19
John J. Wright High School, 2-3
New York University (NYU), 14-15, 19
Benjamin F. Butler Law Club president, 16
Law Review, 16
Omega Phi Psi, 10, 19, 119
segregation, 3, 7, 10-11, 14, 17
summer jobs, 7
Summit Elementary School, 2
Burnett, Arthur, Sr., – Professional
first African-American to Chair a Conference of Judges, 98
Judicial Clerkship Program, 43
lecturer, 42
abortion demonstrators, 76
adoption cases, 78- 82
Alex Haley Farm, 80
Attorney General Honors Program, 127
Chair of the Education Committee, 91
Charles English Award, 123
Children’s Defense Fund, 80
Civil Service Commission, 48-49, 54-55
Assistant General Counsel, 48, 50, 55-56, 58-59
Coalition of Black Professional Organizations, 85
Conference of Special Court Judges, 98
Episcopal Lay Minister, 106
Fathers and Families Coalition of America, 125
Federal Bar Association, 49, 66
Chair of Magistrates Committee, 48
foster care cases, 77, 79
House of Representatives Post Office and Civil Service Committee, 61
Judicial Nomination Commission, 63
Legal Advisor to the President, 59
National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, 110
Executive Director, 85, 110
National Bar Association, 83-84, 117, 119
National Judicial College, 92-93
National Judicial College for State Court Judges, 44
National Medical Association, 86
speaker, 89
Obama Administration, 86, 88-89
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, 61, 70
State Transfer Act, 82
Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 52
confirmation, 66, 72
senior judge status, 79, 80, 85, 105, 110
temporary guardianships, 81-82
termination of parental rights, 77, 79-80
United States Civil Service Commission, 55, 58-59
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (interview), 63
United States Court of Military Appeals (interview), 63
United States Department of Justice
Acting Deputy Chief of the General Crimes Section, 23-24
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
first Black to be appointed magistrate, 41
sabbatical, 85, 89, 106, 110
second term, 66
Youth Court, 121
Vice-President, 122
Vietnam War demonstrators, 76
White House award, 88
Burnett, Arthur, II (son), 89, 131
Johns Hopkins University 84
St. Anselm Abbey School, 132
Viagra, 124, 132-33
Burnett, Darlisa Ann (Lisa) (daughter), 135
Ford Motor Company, 134
Burnett, Darnellena Christalynn (daughter), 130
George Mason School of Law, 131
Hampton University, 131
VPI (Virginia Tech), 131
Burnett, Darryl Lawford (son), 89, 133
Obama, Barack campaign manager, 90
Burnett, Dionne (daughter)
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, 135
Burnett, Frisbieann Lloyd (wife), 128
Blessed Sacrament School, 129
Charity Hospital, 128
Xavier University, 128
Burnett, Lena (mother), 1, 5, 81
Burnett, Richard Earl (brother), 6
Burnett, Robert (father), 1, 5-7, 13, 82
California v. Robinson (case), 111
Campbell, Alan (Scotty), 57
Carey, Michael, 108
Carter, Jimmy, 59, 64-66
CBS Broadcasting Company, 69
Children’s Defense Fund, 80, 83
Civil Service Commission, 48-50, 55-56, 58-59
Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, 60, 62
Clark, Thomas (Tom), 18, 41, 91
Clinton, Hillary, 80, 121
Coalition of Black Professional Organizations, 85
Coburn, Frank, 10
Coleman v. Burnett (case), 96
Colorado Department of Education, 126
Combs, Sadie, 3
Congressional Black Caucus, 88
Foundation, 84, 123
Congressional Research Service, 113
Criminal Justice (magazine), 123
Cullinane, Maurice, 37
Davis, Danny, 113
Davis, Lenora Burnett (sister), 6
Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 12-13
Doyle, John, 38, 41
Edelman, Marian Wright, 79-80, 83, 121
Edlin, J. Kenneth, 24, 26-27, 29
Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, 88, 123
Farmville-Prince Edward County school cases, 12-14
FBI, 23, 25, 30, 32, 75
Federal Judicial Center, 38, 41, 91, 93-94
Federal Magistrates Act, 101
Finn, John, 51
Frazier, E. Franklin, 9
Freelance Star (newspaper), 18
Gasch, Oliver, 37, 95, 99-100
Global Youth for Justice Program, 121
Goodbread, Ronald, 105
Goodman, Carl, 47, 55
Hart, George, 37, 40
Hatch Act, 60
Hill, Oliver, 12
Hinckley, John, 75
Hoffa, Jimmy, 23-24
Hoffman, Walter, 41
Innovation in Reducing Juvenile Crime and Recidivism (Lambert), 123
Jarrett, Valerie, 88
Jet (magazine), 1
Johnson, Mordecai, 11
Johnson, Thomas F. (Tom), 26, 27-29, 33
Jones, Nathaniel, 107
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (periodical)
“Evaluation of Affidavits and Issuance of Search Warrants: a Practical Guide for Magistrates.”
(Burnett), 92
Judicial Conference of the United States, 97
Karim, Talib, 123
Kennedy Administration, 26
Kennedy, Henry, 50
Kennedy, John (Jack), 21-22, 31
Kennedy, Robert (Bobby), 21-26, 29- 33
Kennedy, Edward (Ted), 49-50, 66
Kerner Commission
See National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders
Kessler, Gladys, 85
Lambert, Laura Lothman, 123
Lamberth, Royce, 70-71
Layton, John, 37
Leahy, Patrick, 83
Lee, Sheila Jackson, 123
Lewis, Eleanor, 2
Little Rock Nine, 14
Marshall, Thurgood, 12-14, 91
Martin Luther King, 21, 24, 29, 32-34, 126
McGee, Milton, 127
Meeks, Dwayne, 125
Meese, Edwin (Ed), 70
Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), 60
Miller, Herbert J., 23
Morris, Rosalee, 118
NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), 13-14, 113
Nabrit, James, 12-14
National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 106
National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, 85, 87, 111, 113, 116, 118-20, 123, 125
National Bar Association, 83-84, 117, 119
Nixon, Richard
resignation, 40, 53
Nizer, Louis, 14
Norton, Eleanor Holmes, 58
NYU (New York University), 14-15, 19
Obama, Barack, 90, 116
Obama, Michelle Robinson, 89, 132
One Hundred Fathers, 117, 120
Oregon Supreme Court, 92
Organization for Procedural Justice in America, 106
Oswald, Lee Harvey, 22, 31
Parker, Barrington, 76
Peterson, Scott, 121-22
Youth Court program, 121
Pieces Never Missing Required in a Child’s Life (Meeks and Burnett), 125
Poston, Ersa, 57
Powell, Adam Clayton, 11
Primm, Beny, 110
Ragland, E. A., 3-4
Reagan, Ronald, 22, 64-65, 70, 75, 112
Rehnquist, William, 76
Reno, Janet, 121-22
Ribicoff, Abraham A., 62
Ripken, Cal, 121
Roberts, John, 97
Robinson, Aubrey, 50, 64-65
Robinson, Joseph, 119
Robinson, Spottswood, 12, 45, 97-98
Robinson, William L., 25-26, 29
Roth, William, 71, 113
Rowan, Carl, 74-75
Ruby, Jack, 22, 31
Sachs, Steve, 29
Sasser, James, 71
Satcher, David, 134
Savings and Loan Associations, 29
Scalia, Antonin, 118
Schmoke, Kurt, 113
Scott, A. L., 3
Scott, Bobby, 83
Second Chance Act, 113-15
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, 53
Senate Judiciary Committee, 49-50, 66
Siemer, Deanne, 63
Sirica, John, 37, 40, 53
Small Business Administration, 116
Snyder, Solomon, 132
Sobeloff, Simon, 28
Spellman, Gladys, 62
STEM4 (STEM4US), 123
Sugarman, Jule, 54, 57
Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 51-55, 65-66, 70, 72, 76-80, 83, 85-86, 91, 103-06
Supreme Court of the United States, 29, 38, 45, 57, 76, 83, 111
case law standards, 44
Reports, 9j1
The Black Bourgeoisie (Frazier), 9
Thomas, Clarence, 83
Thomsen, Roszel C., 27
Thurmond, Strom, 49-50, 66-67
Toldson, Marshella, 118
Tribe, Larry, 106
Tydings, Joseph, 25-26, 28, 31
Udall, Morris K., 62
Ugast, Fred, 72
Unis, Richard, 92
United States Commissioner System, 91
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 45
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, 66
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 29
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 69
United State District Court for the District of Columbia
Commissioners, 40-41, 43
preliminary hearings, 41-42, 44-47, 97
Pretrial Examiner, 51, 10
Urbina, Ricardo, 73
Washington, Walter, 37
Washington Daily Law Reporter, 105
Watergate, 40
missing eighteen minutes of tape, 53
White, Byron R., 23
Williams, Edward Bennett, 27
Wilson, Jerry, 37
Wisconsin Supreme Court, 46, 98

Oral History of Honorable Arthur Burnett, Sr.
Table of Cases and Statutes
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), 3, 10-12, 113
California v. Robinson, 370 US 660 (1962), 111
Coleman v. Burnett, 477 F.2d 1187 (D.C. Cir. 1973), 45, 96
Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward, 103 F. Supp. 337 (1952), 12-13
Bail Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3141–3150, 42, 45-47, 93-94, 97
Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, Pub.L. 95–454, 92 Stat. 1111, 60
Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub.L. 111–220, 88, 123
Federal Magistrates Act of 1968, 28 U.S.C. § 631, 101
Hatch Act, Pub.L. 76–252, 60
Second Chance Act, Pub.L. 110–199, 13-15


JANUARY 31, 2020
Born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia – March 15, 1935. Raised in Spotsylvania
County and graduated from the then John J. Wright High School, June 1952 as Class
Married to Frisbieann Lloyd, May 14, 1960, Oakland, California.
Father of five (5) children, all grown – Darnellena Christalyn Burnett, Esq., C.P.A.;
Dr. Arthur Louis Burnett, II; Darryl Lawford Burnett, M.P.H. (Public Health
Administrator); Darlisa Ann Burnett, M.B.A. (Economist); and Dr. Dionne Elizabeth
Burnett Roberts, D.V.M.
Resident of Washington, D.C. since, December, 1968 to present at 6229 32nd Place,
N.W., Washington, D.C. 20015-2427. Area Code: (202) 362-6210 FAX: (202) 362-
Undergraduate and Professional Education:
Graduated from College, Howard University, School of Liberal Arts in a six-year
consolidated college-law school program. Attended Howard University September,
1952 – June 1955 and Summers of 1956 and 1957 receiving degree in October 1957.
Majored in Political Science, with a Minor in Economics. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in
Junior Year – 1955. Graduated with B.A., Summa Cum Laude, October 1957, with
regular four (4) year degree rather than under the consolidated program.
Graduated from New York University School of Law – Attended September, 1955 to
June, 1958. Served as Associate Research Editor, Law Review. President of Benjamin
F. Butler Law Club. Received Honors as Faculty Scholar, Recipient of the Founders
Day Award for placing in the top 10% of my class, graduating Number 24 out of a Class
of 267 students.
While serving as United States Magistrate (1969-1975), attended several judges’ courses
at the National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada between 1970-1975.
While serving in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government as Assistant General
Counsel (Legal Adviser) of the then U.S. Civil Service Commission, attended the Federal
Executive Institute, Charlottesville, Virginia in a seven (7) week program for Senior
Executive officials in the Federal government, August 13, 1978 to September 29, 1978.
Professional positions and jobs in reverse order have included:
National Executive Director, National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.,
at Howard University School of Law, 2900 Van Ness Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
20008 since August 1, 2004 to the present. On sabbatical from the Superior Court of
the District of Columbia as a Senior Judge and in Inactive Status initially for a two (2)
years period which ended August 1, 2006 but as now been extended indefinitely. Also
Adjunct Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law to the present time and
Catholic University Columbus School of Law to 2008.
Senior Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia since November 1998 to
the Present. Retired from active Associate Judge status on October 10, 1998.
Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia – sworn in on
November 30, 1987 and served in active status until October 10, 1998.
United States Magistrate (a position later named United States Magistrate Judge), United
States District Court for the District of Columbia from January 29, 1980 to November 29,
Associate General Counsel, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, January 1, 1979 to
January 28, 1980.
Assistant General Counsel, Legal Advisory Division, U.S. Civil Service Commission,
December 1, 1975 to December 31, 1978.
United States Magistrate, United States District Court for the District of Columbia from
June 26, 1969 to November 30, 1975. First African American United States Magistrate
(Judge) in the history of the Nation.
Legal Adviser (a position later renamed “General Counsel”), District of Columbia,
Metropolitan Police Department, December, 1968 to June 25, 1969. First, in-house
lawyer for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.
Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from April, 1965 to
December 1968.
Staff Attorney, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, serving in the General
Crimes Section as staff attorney and then as acting deputy chief and on a couple of
occasions as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in U.S. Attorneys’ offices,
December 1960 to April, 1965.
Served in the U.S. Army, being drafted on November 18, 1958 and serving in enlisted
status until November 17, 1960 on active duty. Commissioned an Adjutant General
Corps Officer, Second Lieutenant, November 3, 1960 and promoted to First Lieutenant,
December 2, 1963 in U.S. Army Reserves and served in the Ready Reserves for three (3)
years as an Officer.
Entered the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice under the Attorney General’s
Honors Program in June, 1958 following graduation from law school and served in the
Fraud Section until leaving in November, 1958 for two (2) years of active military duty.
Significant Honors and Awards:
Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in my Junior Year in college, and graduated Summa Cum
Laude from Howard University, October 1957.
Recipient in 1963 of the U.S. Attorney General’s Sustained Superior Performance
Recipient of the U.S. Civil Service Commission’s Distinguished Service Award on
December 6, 1978 in connection with my professional work on civil service reform and
related activities.
Recipient of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director’s Award for Meritorious
Service on January 24, 1980 for implementation of civil service reorganization and
Recipient of the Federal Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Distinguished
Service Award on July 16, 1981.
Recipient of the Franklin N. Flaschner Judicial Award, National Conference of Special
Court Judges, Judicial Administration Division, American Bar Association, as the
outstanding judge in the United States on a trial court of special court jurisdiction as
United States Magistrate for distinguished service in improving the quality of justice in
special courts. Award given at ABA Annual Convention in July, 1985.
Recipient of the ABA Judge Edward R. Finch Award for outstanding law day speeches,
Third Place, in 1991.
Recipient of the Federal Bar Association President’s Award in 1994.
Recipient of the National Bar Association President’s Award in 1996.
Recipient of The Ollie May Cooper Award of the Washington Bar Association, October,
1997 for “legal humanitarianism.”
Recipient of the Government of the District of Columbia Office of the Corporation
Counsel’s Children’s Initiatives Forum 1999 Children’s Welfare Leadership Award,
April 29, 1999, for creatively exercising “judicial leadership in establishing family
reunification permanent custodial or final adoptive arrangements in the best interest of
many hundreds of the District of Columbia’s most vulnerable children.”
Recipient of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. “H. Carl
Moultrie Award for Judicial Excellence” in recognition of “His Devoted Service on
Furthering the Cause of Justice,” on May 8, 1999.
Recipient of the Award of Judicial Excellence from the National Conference of State
Trial Judges at the ABA Annual Convention, August 6, 1999, Atlanta, Georgia.
Recipient of the John G. Theban Award for Meritorious Service from Family and Child
Services of Washington, D.C., Inc. in November, 2001 for reforms in the adoption
system of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and expediting adoptions.
Recipient of the American Bar Association’s Award for Excellence in State Justice
Initiatives given jointly by the ABA Section of Litigation and the ABA Judicial Division
at the Annual Convention in August, 2002.
Recipient of the Federal Bar Association Earl W. Kintner Award for outstanding service
to the Bar and the Legal Profession, the highest award given nationally by the Federal
Bar Association, at its Annual Convention in September, 2002.
Recipient in July, 2004 of the National Bar Association Judicial Council’s Raymond Pace
Alexander Award for Lifetime Contributions to Judicial Advocacy at its Annual
Recipient in July, 2004 of the National Bar Association’s C. Francis Stradford Award,
named after one of the founders of the NBA, for a lifetime of excellent services to the
National Bar Association and the legal profession.
Recipient on February 12, 2005 of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity
in the Profession’s Spirit of Excellence Award for contributions in advancing civil rights
and outstanding performance throughout legal and judicial career.
Selected for Cambridge Who’s Who in 2008.
Recipient in April 2010 of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the John Carroll
Society of Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Recipient of the President’s Award of Excellence from the National Black Prosecutors
Association in July 2010.
Selected to Cambridge’s Who’s Who in America as outstanding expert on drug law
policy and criminal justice matters in 2010.
Recipient of the Wellstone Visionary Health Award from the Washington Psychiatric
Society for Advancing in Healthcare Reform Achieving Parity for Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Treatment, November 18, 2011.
Recognized by Ashford Publishing as an Ashford Publishing V.I.P. in its 2011-2012
Online Registry of Ashford Publishing Inc., having demonstrated exemplary
achievements and distinguished contributions to the business community.
Significant Court Committee Assignments and Activities:
Judicial Liaison to community organizations to develop community and organizations
support for alternatives in sentencing to incarceration, and in crime and juvenile
delinquency prevention, both as to juveniles and adults, from January, 1994 to August,
Member of the Implementation Task Force for Reduction of Delay in Handling Civil
Cases and Implementation of the Individual Calendar System for 3-4 years.
Member of the Criminal Rules Advisory Committee for several years.
Member of the Superior Court Library Committee for several years.
Member of Superior Court Committee to Create Juvenile Drug Court for almost two
Significant Officer and Committee Positions in Bar Associations and Professional
Chairperson, National Conference of Special Court Judges, Judicial Administration
Division, ABA, 1974-1975. First African American to Chair a Conference of Judges in
the American Bar Association.
Deputy Section Coordinator, 1984-1986 and Section Coordinator, 1986-1988 of the
National Federal Bar Association overseeing, monitoring and approving all Section
activities of the national Federal Bar Association during this period.
President, National Council of United States Magistrates, 1983-1984. Subsequently in
1988 the title of the judicial officers was changed to “United States Magistrate Judges.”
President, District of Columbia Chapter, Federal Bar Association, 1984-1985.
President, Prettyman-Leventhal American Inn of Court, 1994-1995.
Secretary, Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section, American Bar
Association, 1993-1995.
Liaison Representative of the ABA Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section
to the Administrative Conference of the United States, 1990-1994.
Council Member, ABA Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section, 1987 –
Chairperson, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Evidence Committee, Criminal Justice
Section, American Bar Association, 1993-1997.
Chairperson, Civil Rights and Employment Discrimination Committee, Administrative
Law and Regulatory Practice Section, American Bar Association, 1992-1995.
Member of the ABA, Judicial Division Standing Committee on Minorities in the
Judiciary and its predecessor Task Force on Minorities in the Judiciary from 1988 to the
present, except for two (2) one year breaks in my service required by the by-laws,
during which time I served as an adviser and consultant.
Chairperson, Subcommittee on Law Student Interns, ABA Judicial Administration
Division Task Force on Improving Opportunities for Minorities in the Legal Profession,
Co-chairperson, Subcommittee on Minority Judges Directory, ABA Judicial
Administration Division Task Force on Improving Opportunities for Minorities in the
Legal Profession, 1994-1997 and then sole Chair and Editor-in-Chief of the Directory
from 1988 to the Present.
Co-Chair, Editorial Board, Criminal Justice Magazine Board of the Criminal Justice
Section of the ABA, 1997-2000, and Chair-Emeritus and Member of the Board since to
the present.
Co-Chair, Criminal Process Committee, Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice
Section, ABA, 1998-1999.
Member, ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, 1955-1999, and Member of the
Advisory Committee to the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, 2005 to 2010 and
appointed Chair, Advisory Committee for 2010-2011 by the President of the ABA.
Currently member of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse again, 2011 –
Member, Publications Committee, Criminal Justice Section, ABA, 1997 to the present.
Member, Juvenile Justice Committee, Criminal Justice Section, ABA now for more than
30 years.
Member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 1997 to the
present, and of its Advisory Committee on Adoption Law since 1998, and of its
Substance Abuse Committee since 2003 to the present.
Appointed Member of the National Federal Bar Association “National Council” – its
governing body – for a number of years and Chair of the FBA Audit Committee, since
1999 to 2008.
Member, Board of Directors, Council for Court Excellence, District of Columbia, 1997 to
the Present. Special lecturer for the Council for Court Excellence in promoting the value
for citizen participation in juries in this Nation as being as important as voting to
maintain democracy and our constitutional system.
Member of the Resources Committee, National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada on
Developing Handbook and Guidelines for Handling Youth as Adults in Criminal Court,
Judge-in-Residence with the Black Community Crusade for Children, Children’s Defense
Fund October 13, 1998 to August 2004 as volunteer to plan and develop programs to
reduce juvenile delinquency and crime in America, to improve the foster care system, and
to advance and promote adoption and the improvements in the foster care system
throughout the United States. This is part-time volunteer work with the Children’s
Defense Fund merely reimbursement me for out of pocket expenses incurred on its
behalf. This activity continued to August 1, 2004 when I took a sabbatical from the
Superior Court to become the full-time National Executive Director of the National
African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
Co-Chair of the Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ Leadership Council of the Black
Community Crusade for Children of the Children’s Defense Fund from 1997 to August 1,
2004. Member since 1993.
Member of the American Bar Association Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal
Needs of Children, 2003 until that Committee was terminated in 2006. Since 2006 to the
Present, Liaison from the Judicial Division of the American Bar Association to the ABA
Commission on Youth-At Risk to the present time.
Co-Chair, Health Care Initiative Committee Project, National Bar Association, to
establish joint initiatives with African American doctors, nurses, psychologists, social
workers and Historic Black Colleges to address illicit drug usage and excessive alcohol
consumption and other health issues of minority youth in juvenile and foster care systems
and in the community in general, 2003-2004. The endeavors of this project led to the
creation of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
Co-Chair, Drug Policy Initiative Project, National Bar Association, to promote a public
health approach to dealing with drug users and those who sell drugs merely to support
their own addictions, 2003-2004. The results of this Project effort was combined with
the Health Care Initiative Committee Project and resulted in the creation of the National
African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.
Chair, National Bar Association Committee to Promoted Increased Minority Judges and
Judicial Officer representation on the State and Federal Benches, 2003-2004.
Special Assistant to the President of the National Bar Association, 2003-2004.
Commissioner on the Dellums’ Commission of the Joint Center for Political and
Economic Studies dealing with health care disparities affecting men of color and what
solutions must be achieved, 2004 to the Present. This entity is referred to officially as
the “Joint Center Health Policy Institute’s Dellums Commission: Analyses and Action
Plan to Reform Public Policies that Limit Life Paths of Young Men of Color.”
Member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics
from 2000 to the Present. This non-profit organization also includes within its mission
dealing with the abuse and misuse of illicit drugs with a focus on the trauma and
psychological impact on children exposed to both alcoholism and drug using parents,
guardians and caretakers. Became Officer as Secretary in 2010.
Staff Director, Blue Ribbon Drug Policy Commission on Racial Disparities in Substance
Abuse Policies of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc., comprised
of twenty-one (21) pre-eminent experts. The Commission conducted six (6) hearings in
several locations between October, 2005 and March, 2006, hearing from 109 witnesses
and received numerous written submissions for recommendations of what changes and
reforms must be made in substance abuse policies in this Nation. The Report with
Recommendations is now in the process of being prepared with an expected release date
in August, 2006.
Elected to the Board of Directors of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug
Dependency, April, 2010. Currently Member of the Board of Directors of this national
President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Youth Court of the District of
Columbia, Inc., a non-profit entity promoting pretrial diversion for juvenile non-violent
offenders in the District of Columbia. 2010 to the Present.
Chairman of the Board of Directors of The 100 Fathers, Inc., a District of Columbia nonprofit entity devoted to promoting fathers becoming involved in raising their children, to
instill values and mold character to prevent juvenile delinquency by the children and
involvement in illegal drugs and abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, and to reengage fathers being released from prison to be more than child support payers, but to
become responsible fathers participating in their youth activities and promoting character
development, thus giving such fathers a stake in remaining drug free themselves and not
repeating crimes, because they wish to be not locked up and deprived of the opportunity
to share in the achievements and progress of their children. 2010 to the Present.
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Washington Healthcare Empowerment
Coalition, Inc., the Washington, D.C. affiliate of the National African American Drug
Policy Coalition, Inc. since 2010 to develop programs and activities for Washington,
D.C. African American youth to interrupt the pipeline to prison for many of them. These
programs focus on reducing truancy, preventing dropping out of school, and encouraging
educational excellence by D.C. youth in both the Public Schools and the Charter Schools
of the city.
Vice-President of Administration to October 1, 2018 and National Executive Director of
the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. since August 1, 2004 to the
present time, on Sabbatical from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia as a
Senior Judge of that Court, promoting the cause of eliminating all the remaining vestiges
of disparate treatment and unlawful discrimination in our healthcare system and in our
criminal justice and juvenile justice systems in particular, and generally in all related
sectors of our public life. I completely retired as a Senior Judge February 2013 and
became fully retired..
Consultant to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America on juvenile justice issues and
mentoring – 2011 to the present.
Other Significant Professional Activities:
Served as frequent lecturer in continuing legal education programs on discovery, pretrial,
sanctions, settlement conferences, Rule 11 and related subjects in civil litigation. Served
as frequent lecturer on criminal motion practice and sentencing, including alternatives to
Author of substantial number of law review and law journal articles and other legal
commentary on bail, pretrial release, pretrial detention, search and seizure, the role and
utilization of United States Magistrates in criminal and civil cases, and on all areas of
civil litigation.
Served as frequent lecturer and panelist on juvenile delinquency issues and how to
develop plans and programs to prevent and reduce delinquent conduct, violence, drug
involvement, school truancy and dropping out of school, how to improve the foster care
system and the handling of neglect and abuse cases in the judicial system, and how to
promote increased adoptions of children when reunification with the biological family is
no longer feasible. Appeared all over the country on behalf of the Children’s Defense
Fund as speaker and for other organizations as a participant panelist in seminars and at
conferences on these issues. Have given frequent talks to junior and senior high school
students in the District of Columbia to prevent juvenile delinquency, to encourage them
not to be truant and to stay in school and to achieve good grades, and prepare for useful
lives for themselves. Since 1994 have made several hundred presentations in D.C.
Public, Charter, Private and religious schools in order to reduce juvenile delinquency and
what would be criminal acts by adults and to encourage academic excellence and
Served as Adjunct Professor of Law in Trial Practice, Howard University School of Law,
1998 to 2011.
Served as Adjunct Professor of Law in Appellate Advocacy, Catholic University
Columbus School of Law, 1997 to 2008.
Since August 1, 2004 to the present time I have participated as speaker and/or panelist in
conferences and seminars dealing with drug usage and addiction, alcoholism, mental
health and related juvenile delinquency and criminal conduct on the average of 4 or 5
times a month. During the past 3 years, I would conservatively estimate that I have
made more than 250 – 300 presentations as the National Executive Director of the
National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. at conferences, seminars and
meetings throughout this Nation. These presentations have placed an emphasis on a
public health approach to drug treatment for the truly addicted and drug dependent,
obtaining adequate resources for drug courts, assuring that the course of drug treatment is
sufficiently intense to be effective, and promoting pretrial diversion and therapeutic
sentencing for non-violent drug offenders whose crimes are directly tied to drug addiction
as a disease. I have also placed heavy emphasis on an effective drug education and
prevention program starting at the Third Grade in our schools coupled with an incentive
rewards system for those youth who stay away from drugs and juvenile delinquency and
do well in school academically and achieve according to the talents they have.
After taking Senior Judge status in 1998 to August 1, 2004 when not engaged in the
multiple volunteer acts for the Bar or for the Children’s Defense Fund, or serving as the
Community Relations Liaison Judge for the Superior Court in the community, I sat as a
Senior Judge hearing Family Law cases, and specifically handling adoption cases, for a
significant period of time amounting to six to eight months a year, a significant portion of
which was without compensation, as under the law, a judge can be paid only up to 20%
of what a regular associate judge receives, if he or she is receiving a retirement pension
amounting to 80% of salary. In the Calendar Year 2001 I sat full-time just as a regular
judge for the full year and handled the Adoption Calendar for the Superior Court at a time
there was a threat to create a separate Family Court and my sitting was used as a counter
argument that keeping the Family Court operations as a part of the Superior Court would
permit the use of experienced Senior Judges dedicated to Family law and children issues.
Ultimately, Congress accepted this argument and while it increased the powers of the
Family Court, it was kept as a part of the Superior Court as a unified court system.
Publications and Legal Writings:
Search Warrants: Impact and Application of Chimel and Spinelli and Related Problems,
Volume 29, Summer 1970, Number 3, pages 170-199.
The Potential for Greater Utilization of Magistrates in Intellectual Property Cases as
Viewed by a Magistrate, AIPLA Quarterly Journal, Volume 12, No. 3, 1984, pages 201-
Practical, Innovative, and Progressive Utilization of U.S. Magistrates to Improve the
Administration of Justice in the U.S. District Courts, Volume 28 Number 1, pages 293-
311 (1985).
Permeation of Race, National Origin and Gender Issues from Initial Law Enforcement
Contact Through Sentencing, The Need for Sensitivity, Equalitarianism and Vigilance in
the Criminal Justice System, American Criminal Law Review, Volume 31, Summer
1994, Number 4, Pages 1153-1175.
Race and National Origin As Influential Factors in Juvenile Detention, The District of
Columbia Law Review, Volume 3, Fall 1995, Number 2, pages 355-369..
Promoting Diversity as the Ultimate Means of Achieving True Equality for All Persons
in the National Federal Bar Journal 2003.
Abolish Peremptory Challenges: Reform Juries to Promote Impartiality, Criminal Justice
Magazine, Section of Criminal Justice, American Bar Association, Fall 2005, Volume 20,
Number 3, pages 26-34.
State Supreme Courts are giving greater emphasis under State Constitutions protecting
individual rights of citizens than are the federal courts under the United States Supreme
Court and its interpretation of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. See
Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., An Irony – Greater Protection of Individual Rights Now Found in
State Courts, Volume 22, Number 1, Criminal Justice Magazine, pp.20-27 (Spring 2007).
The Use of Informants in Criminal Cases and how this frequently leads to injustices.
See Burnett, Arthur L., The Potential for Injustice in the Use of Informants in the
Criminal Justice System, 37 Southwestern U. L. R. 1079 – 1089 (2008).
Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers, Volume 2, Law and
Government, Chapter 5 – “The Drive to Overcome and Excel, Pages 65-76 (2012).
Juvenile Civil Citation – An Effective Innovation in Reducing Juvenile Crime and
Recidivism, by Laura Lothman and Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., American Bar Association,
Criminal Justice Magazine, Section of Criminal Justice, Volume 34, Summer 2019, pages
America’s New Criminal Justice System Diversion Program, The Community
Acceptance Program, by Scott B. Peterson, Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. and Jonathan A.
Halstuch, Criminal Justice Magazine, Criminal Justice Section, Volume 34, No. 4
Winter 2020, pages 23-25, 2020.
“Up All Night – Practical Wisdom from Mothers and Fathers,” Chapter ”More with
Praise”, Chapter at 74-77. Explanation on how to use praise for good deeds and actions
to counter wrongful conduct of children while growing up to become responsible adults.
Voices of Historical and Contemporary Black American Pioneers in Four Volumes.
Volume Two on Law and Government, Law and Government, Chapter 5, titled “The
Drive to Overcome and Excel, authored by Arthur L. Burnett, Sr. is Chapter 5, pages 65-
78 Published in 2012
Co-author of Book with Dwayne Meeks, a father involved In fatherhood issues and
organizations in Denver, Colorado, titled: “Pieces Never Missing Required in the Life of
a Child” published in 2017 sitting forth our concepts on how to raise children to get them
to excel in education and other activities and become responsible adults and not engaged
in illegal drugs, juvenile delinquent behaviors and criminal type conduct, with me adding
the insight of not only a father raising five (5) children but adding my insights and
experiences of 32 years on the Bench sentencing offenders for crime and reviewing
presentence reports on offenders’ lives and also sitting in Family Court Cases involving
neglect and abuse, termination of parental rights, and adoption for more than a total of 10
Additional Awards and Recognition as a Retired Judge as a Volunteer.
Recognized by Marquis Who’s Who “A Lifetime of Achievement: Our Collection of
prestigious Listees,” Volume 1 with Lead in the Book as “Executive Spotlight”
recognition in 2018..
Recognized in Who’s Who International Registry as Professional of the Year in 2019.
Selected by Pro-Files Magazine, Fourth Edition for its Cover Page as “Longtime
Magistrate Judge Works to Reverse Effects of Drug Abuse in the African-American
Selected by Top 100 Registry – Top 100 Lawyers 2019 for Lifetime Achievement
Selected by the International Association of Top Professionals as Top Judge in 2017, for
Lifetime Achievement in 2018, and in 2019 for Retired Top Judge of the Decade and into
its Hall of Fame on December 7, 2019..

5610 Wisconsin Ave. Apt. 602
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Cell—301 503 6103
European Institute—October 2009 to 2018—Washington, DC, Managing Editor
Wrote, edited, and commissioned articles for European Affairs Magazine, published by
European Institute. www.EuropeanInstitute.org. 2019–Working to revive European Institute at
University of Maryland.
US-ASEAN Business Council – 2008 to September 2009—Washington DC
Vice President—Supervised legal, policy and administration of trade association of 100 US-affiliated
businesses with operations in 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia Nations) countries.
Led business delegations to Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, and represented Council at Lima
(APEC). Organized fund raising events including dinner for 300 guests with US Secretary of
Verizon Business/MCI – 1984 to 2007—Details below
Verizon Business – 2004-2007—Singapore
General Counsel Asia
Manage legal/regulatory matters in 14 Asia-Pacific countries where Verizon operates with its
own entities or with partners. Support sales, finance, engineering, HR activities in Asia. Provide
legal support for expansion in China and India, including the creation of Verizon’s wholly
foreign owned enterprise (WFOE) in China and joint venture in India. Serve as member of
Senior Management Team in Asia-Pacific. Staff of 11 including 5 lawyers, plus outside counsel
in key locations. Board of Governors AmCham Singapore. Chair of Government Affairs
MCI/WorldCom – 2000-2004 —Washington DC
Vice President International Alliances & Strategy
Manage MCI/WorldCom international alliances worldwide, including equity alliances in Mexico
and Brazil and business alliance with Bell Canada. Identify and implement international
expansion opportunities for MCI/WorldCom services; find international partner; negotiate
contract; manage ongoing relationship. Handled contract negotiations for expansion in China,
Russia, India, Poland, Egypt, and Israel.

MCI/WorldCom – 1984-2000—Washington DC
Vice President International Strategy, Vice President Communications,
Director Law and Public Policy for MCI Consumer Division.
Various positions with MCI Communications and WorldCom (after WorldCom acquired MCI in
1998), including regulatory attorney; Chief Counsel for MCI Consumer Division; Director of
MCI/Concert relationship; Vice-President MCI Strategy; BT/MCI Merger Transition team
coordinator; Vice President Corporate Communications WorldCom; annual report writer;
speechwriter for CEO’s of MCI and WorldCom.
Wilmer Cutler & Pickering – 1981-1984—Washington DC
Associate Attorney, focusing on communications matters.
William Marmon Page 2
Hon. Albert V. Bryan Jr., US District Court Judge, Eastern District of Virginia
(Alexandria) – 1980-1981
Judicial Clerk
TIME Magazine – 1966-1977
Bureau Chief and Correspondent
Based in Jerusalem (bureau chief), Beirut, Saigon, Bangkok, United Nations, and domestic
bureaus. Covered wars in South Asia and Middle East; wrote hundreds of stories, including
U.S. Coast Guard Reserve – 1965-1966—Honorable discharge.
Thessaloniki – International High School – 1964-1965—Thessaloniki, Greece
Teacher of English, Latin, Journalism and Greek History.
University of Virginia Law School – JD 1980
Order of Coif (top 10 percent of class for three years), Editor, Virginia Journal of International
Law, Raven Society (honorary). Adjunct professor of English in University of Virginia
undergraduate English Department during Law School.
Princeton University – BA 1964
History (thesis “The Harlem Renaissance.”)

Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, US Supreme Court—Mediation for DC Court of Appeals;
Oral Histories for Historical Society of DC
Born Richmond, Virginia. Married to Lucretia McCalmont, two daughters. Valedictorian of Class at
Douglas Freeman High School. Eagle Scout. Interests—Windsurfing, squash, backpacking, chess,
computers, running (Marine Corps Marathon).