The Honorable Arthur L. Burnett, SR, Retired Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Former Vice President of Administration, National Executive Director and National Spokesperson for the National African American Drug Policy Coalition Inc. was recently selected as the Most Influential Leader in the Judicial System by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP).
While inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor, choosing the Top 20 Most Influential Members of the Year comes with great purpose, admiration, and respect. These members inspire others, show gratitude, bring people together and have helped people feel connected to one another. With their service they have displayed innovative leadership practices, pushed others towards success, and made sure their voice left an impact. Judge Burnett has superior performance in his field, he is passionate about his work and holds high morals and integrity in all he does. IAOTP will honor him for this distinction at their Annual Awards Gala being held at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas this December.
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Judge Burnett is one of the Most Influential Leaders in the Justice System of all time. He has dedicated more than 60 years of his professional talent and expertise to the legal field and serving the judicial system. In recent years, Judge Burnett was honored as Top Judge of the Year, he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into IAOTP’s exclusive Hall of Fame. He was named Top Judge of the Decade and was featured in the Top 50 Fearless Leaders Publication.
With such a phenomenal impact on society, Judge Burnett has demonstrated success on a global level. He has visited and consulted with judges from foreign countries and served as a briefing judge for the U.S. Department of State in advising foreign judges on the operations of the legal and judicial system of the United States.
Mr. Burnett commenced his legal career after graduating from Howard University summa cum laude with a major in political science and minor in economics. In his junior year he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and attended New York University School of Law in a six-year college-law combination program, receiving his college degree in October 1957 and receiving his law degree in June 1958 from New York University, graduating in the top 10% of his class and as a Founders’ Day Award Recipient. Mr. Burnett completed 7 years of college and law schoolwork in only 6 calendar years. While he entered law school on the 6-year combination program, he declined accepting a college degree under that program and returned to Howard University in the Summers of 1956 and 1957 and took additional courses finishing a total of 127 hours and receiving a 4-year college degree from Howard University in October 1957. In law school he finished a full 3-year program of law studies and thus factually did 7 years of actual formal studies in 6 years. He was also Associate Research Editor of its Law Review.
Mr. Burnett began in the Attorney General’s Honors Program at the United States Department of Justice in the Criminal Division in June 1958 but was shortly thereafter drafted into the United States Army November 18, 1958, while endeavoring to obtain a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Commission in the United States Air Force, having passed the Bar Examination of the District of Columbia, he was officially sworn in as a lawyer on October 20, 1958. He became a Second Lieutenant in the Adjutant General Corps and received the Army Commendation Medal from the Secretary of U.S. Army for his exceptional performance of duty. He continued to serve in the Ready Reserve and was promoted to First Lieutenant and finally resigned his Commission when he was appointed United States Magistrate in June 1969. In civilian life in December 1960, he returned to the U.S. Department of Justice and in January 1961 became liaison from the Criminal Division to the Attorney General of the United States to keep him and the Deputy Attorney General advised of significant developments in all the major criminal cases and to monitor the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Movement. He was also appointed by the Attorney General as Special Prosecutor with the United States Attorney of Maryland of two United States Congressmen for government corruption offenses with reference to their activities to persuade the Attorney General and the Administration to prevent the prosecution of a Savings and Loan entrepreneur and his general counsel running two Savings and Loan Association for perpetrating frauds against senior citizens and gullible investors. The two congressmen and the Proprietor of the two Savings and Loans and his General Counsel were convicted after a trial lasting almost three (3) months on every count in the indictment. He played a major role in convincing the Attorney General and the President that they had to go forward with criminal prosecution, or the Kennedy Administration could face a Teapot Dome Scandal or what we now frequently refer to as a “Watergate Scandal.”
In April 1965 he became an Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, District of Columbia serving as a Senior Prosecutor and in December 1968 he became the first General Counsel – then called Legal Advisor – of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia. His role was to prepare the General Orders and give advice to the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department and senior officers and supervisors to prevent civil rights violations and police brutality claims and to make sure that the police officers complied with the requirements of decisions of the United States federal courts under the United States Constitution after the riots and destructions which had occurred in Washington, D.C. following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 and in a sense to be the Squad Car Lawyer inside the Police Department to restore peace and order and to assure that the police would not retaliate against the Black and poor citizens of the Nation’s Capital during that period. He had planned to spend 3-5 years in that role, but less than a year after taking on that job and professional responsibilities, he was appointed on June 26, 1969, at 34 years of age to the Judicial System as the first African American United States Magistrate in the Nation.
He served in that position for six (6) years leaving the judicial system after leading reform efforts at this stage of the judicial system in December 1975. Those reforms included strengthening the quality of arrest and search warrants issued by federal magistrates, implement Bail Reform processes so that persons were not kept in jail on low money bonds because of poverty, but on issues of likelihood of flight and failure to comply with court appearances in the past and strength of the government’s case and finally that defense lawyers could call witnesses at a preliminary hearing to show weaknesses in the government’s case such as homicides where there was plausible evidence of self-defense, or in a rape case of prostitution and disputes over consent and money being paid for sex, or narcotics undercover officers allegedly fabricated their reports such as with the description of the suspect or to the transaction actually occurring. This initiative led to a lengthy Court of Appeals decision which was later adopted by the Judicial Conference to be binding on all of the Federal Courts of this Nation.
In December 1975 he faced the most difficult professional decision he had to make in his career. He was recruited to leave the Bench although he had two more years to go on his Term as United States Magistrate and to become Assistant General Counsel, in charge of the Legal Advisory Division of the then United States Civil Service Commission to act on harmonizing affirmative action and the merit systems as if he were a United States federal district court judge to issue opinions which would stand up in the United States Supreme Court. In addition, he had four (4) children approaching the ages of entering college and the position of Assistant General Counsel provided for a substantial increase in his salary compensation at the time. He resigned as a Magistrate and took the job.
Subsequently, President Jimmy Carter established as his major initiative revising the Federal Civil System and he was assigned to work with the White House Counsel’s Office and served as the principal legal advisor and was the main drafter of the legislation which became the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 leading to the creation of Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Office of Special Counsel to deal with Hatch Act allegations. He also drafted the provisions which led to and refined recommendations from others to create the Senior Executive Service. He also advised President Carter on the several reorganizations plans during his Term as President.
Ironically, during this period of time, he was very active in the Federal Bar Association serving as the Deputy Section Coordinator of all Bar Activity and also as Chair of its Magistrates’ Committee. When Congress was considering giving United States Magistrate the power to try civil cases with the consent of the parties, he was the principal spokesperson and representative of the Federal Bar Association. The Justice Department under then Attorney General Griffin Bell, supported the concept but would qualify it to permit the losing party to have a de novo trial before a federal district court judge. He appeared as a major witness as the Chair of the Federal Bar Association Committee and the Organization’s position that such a requirement would impose double costs for a trial on the litigants, second consent of the parties and lawyers would be required influencing magistrates to be careful and thorough in their rulings and decisions to continue to persuade the lawyers at the Bar to give consent, third magistrates were selected by the Judges for 8-year terms, and judges normally pick magistrates like they pick their own law clerks as the best intellectual talent they can find, and many magistrates will perform in a manner to persuade those persons who play a role in selecting individuals as lifetime judges to elevate them to higher judicial office. The Congress rejected Attorney General Griffin Bell’s position and accepted the approach he advocated and now Magistrate Judges throughout this Nation can set as Substitute District Court Judges in all civil cases with direct appeals to the United States Court of Appeals. Indeed, upon return to the Federal Bench as a Magistrate later shortly thereafter Congress enhanced the stature to call these officials “Magistrate Judges” and after returning to the United States District Court in January, 1980, in Calendar Year 1985 he tried thirteen (13) civil cases sitting as a substitute district judge with direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals.
In January 1980 he was again appointed to an 8-year term as United States Magistrate (now called United States Magistrate Judges) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where he served until appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in November 1987, a court which has both jurisdiction over federal cases and state type cases. He retired in October 1998 from active Associate Judge status and became a Senior Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and continued to serve actively hearing cases until August 1, 2004. During this period Mr. Burnett also served as Judge-in-Residence to the Children’s Defense Fund and as Co-Chair of its Judges’ program in the Children’s Defense Fund where he advised on proposed legislation, ran seminars and conferences at the Alex Haley Farm retreat in Tennessee, and was a frequent speaker and on numerous panels.
While retaining the status of a Senior Judge, on August 1, 2004, he took a Sabbatical from the Bench and assumed the position of National Executive Director of The National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. in which position he now serves. In 2004 he was honored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for his work in creating the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. and as one of the leading advocates on drug policy initiatives matters in the Obama Administration. He served as an Adjunct Law Professor in Trial Advocacy at Howard University School of Law from 1998 – 2011. He has served as an Adjunct Law Professor at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University, from 1997 to 2008. On February 15, 2013, he officially completely retired from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Throughout his remarkable career, Mr. Burnett has received numerous awards and has been recognized worldwide for his outstanding leadership and commitment to the profession. In 1963 while Arthur was working as an Adviser directly to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, he received the Sustained Superior Performance Award for his work in keeping the Attorney General advised of developments in major government corruption cases and in monitoring the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Movement. In December 1978 he was awarded the Distinguished Civil Service Award for his work in advising the old U.S. Civil Service Commission and the President of the United States in securing the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. In 1985 he was recognized by the American Bar Association’s National Conference of Special Court Judges as the Most Outstanding Special Court Judge in America for his leadership role as one of the United States Magistrates in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for his work in upgrading the old U.S. Commissioner system and leadership in converting the United States Magistrate system into the misdemeanor trial court in the federal system, giving real substance to preliminary hearings, reforming the arrest and search warrant operations and his leadership in education of Magistrate Judges and influencing legislative developments. In 1999 he was recognized as being one of the three (3) Most Outstanding General Jurisdiction Judges hearing all types of cases in America by the American Bar Association’s National Conference of State Trial Court Judges for his judicial performance on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In 2005 he was awarded the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession Spirit of Excellence Award for his civil rights history and judicial performance, one of the highest and most prestigious Awards given by the American Bar Association. In 2009 he was acknowledged as a WAYMAKER in the American Bar Association Judges’ Journal for his civil rights history and judicial performance in an extensive interview of his life’s history. Finally, in 2010 he was recognized by Cambridge’s Who’s Who as one of the most knowledgeable experts in the United States on the drug laws and policies of this Nation and the application of the criminal and juvenile justice system and related healthcare issues involving treatment for substance use disorders and mental health conditions. In 2017 he was recognized by Who’s Who with the Lifetime Achievement Award named after the founder of Who’s Who – Albert Nelson Marquis. Judge Burnett was featured in TIP (Top Industry Professionals) Magazine and was interviewed on TIP Radio by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP. He is being considered for a broadcast on the famous Reuters building in Times Square, NYC.
Now retired, Mr. Burnett continues to serve as the National Executive Director of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. and as an officer in several other non-profit entities, on their Board of Directors, or as an Advisor to such organizations dealing with youth, substance abuse, mental health and juvenile and criminal justice reforms. Locally, in Washington D.C. when the D.D. Commission on Fathers, Men, and Boys were created, he was appointed by the Mayor as its first appointee to a (1) year term, and at its expiration re-appointed to a four (4) year term which expired in September 2020.
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