Posted: October 6th, 2017 | By: Ben Steelman
Judge Gilbert “Gil” Henry Burnett (JD ’56), of Burgaw, North Carolina, has received a StarNews Lifetime Achievement Award. Judge Burnett, one of three winners of this year’s award, served as district judge for North Carolina’s 5th Judicial District from 1969 to 1992.
A portion of the StarNews article written by Ben Steelman on Judge Burnett’s award and career highlights follows.
Gil Burnett was vacationing at White Lake in 1952, when a local lawman came to the door with bad news. A textile mill he operated near Raleigh had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground, a total loss and underinsured. His business was finished.
Burnett thought a moment. “Well, I had a bunch of lumber in my yard,” he said, “so I decided to build a boat to keep my sanity.”
While building, he thought about his options — and decided to change course, entering law school at Wake Forest University, while it was still in the town of Wake Forest. After all, his father had been a lawyer and one of the area’s first tax examiners.
“When I got into law, I was home,” he said.
After a successful law career, Burnett ran for District Court for New Hanover and Pender counties in 1968 — a relatively new court, recently created by the General Assembly. He won and was named chief judge for the local 5th District soon afterward, and went on to serve 23 years.
One of the new court’s branches was its juvenile bench. “I decided to take that under my wing,” he said.
“He brought change and attention to our juvenile courts before anyone realized it was important,” said another Wake Forest law school alumnus, New Hanover Chief District Judge Jay Corpening (JD ’79), a longtime colleague of Burnett’s.