In this interview conducted by Sherman Hayes and Michael Haas, Mr. Gilbert H. Burnett reveals the circumstances that led him to practice law and shares anecdotes from his professional history, including his focus on improving the Juvenile Court System and his memories of the "Wilmington Ten" hearing.
Q: We are interviewing today Gilbert H. Burnett, Chief Judge 5th Judicial District Retired North Carolina. He's being interviewed by Sherman Hayes, Librarian at University of North Carolina, Wilmington and Michael A. Haas, Attorney. Mr Burnett, we might ask at the beginning by asking you to describe your early growing up and early education for us.
Burnett: In 1925 August 7th, I was born in Burgaw, no hospital there, born at the house. I grew up in Burgaw. My Dad's family was from New Hanover County, Wilmington but he had moved up to Burgaw. He ah.. was an attorney with the US Treasury Department, he was a first estate and gift tax examiner in North Carolina. When he retired, I'll toss this in, he got the highest award the Treasury Department gives the Albert Gallantin Award. I grew up and went to school in Burgaw, finished there in 1943. In the summers, I spent ah.. those at Carolina Beach, Dad built a cottage in 1936 and I worked down there, I had a little snow ball stand ah.. here and there and you know, and it moved about. But I finally settled uhm.. on lot 4 block H, I think it is Carolina Beach there, bought a little piece o' land. So I sold snow balls down there from the time I was about.
Q: What do you mean you sold snow balls, what's a snow ball?
Burnett: A snow ball is shaved ice and ah.. you put juice on it, the syrup. The syrup was made ah.. in the gallon, you'd have ah.. five pounds of sugar that makes it a syrup and you put the flavoring in which is condensed and I had a little secret ah.. citric acid that I learned would give it a little twang that ah.. made 'em the best on the beach. In fact I'll tell ya a little story about that. I- I got the stand, started sellin', well I first of all, I sold popcorn for Mr Mansfield down at Carolina Beach, he had the hobby horses, the ferris wheels, ferris wheel he was on the town board, he was a big shot. And he had a foreman who was named Howard who was my boss, now I was 11, 12, long in there. Well Howard wouldn't necessarily co- count my bags right of the money or somethin' but when I checked up short, he took it outta my pay. When I checked up over, he kept it. So anyway, I talked to Mr Mansfield, I'm a little snotty nosed kid, they can get 'em easily to sell popcorn. Anyway finally I told him if he didn't get him to do it straight, I would quit, which I did and I borrowed some money from my dad and bought half interest in two snow ball stands owned by a man and his father. So I went head to head competition with because Mr Mansfield had snow balls also, snow ball stands. As I said, shaved ice in a little white V shaped cup, was served in it. Well, Mr Mansfield built a stand right across the boardwalk from me and started giving snow balls away. I'm gonna try to make this fast but you may find it interesting. He gave 'em away. I couldn't sell a snow ball, so I called my lawyer, my dad. I said "you better help me or I cannot repay this money." So we were about to go to the, well we talked to police an' all, anyway, he finally agreed not to give 'em away, that's all I wanted. My partners at the- near the end o' the summer, left, we closed that stand and my- we had two stands risen. So I went to the other stand. Mansfield built one across from there. So I knew it was rude hog or die, I was by this time 13 maybe 14, along in there. So I knew it was him or me. And he still had his ferris wheels, hobby horses and such. So the old ladies, when they would come to the beach, girls, they would like to hang out some place for a few minutes. They'd walk around, come back, talk. So if there were any people on the boardwalk and I was half way between the ocean and the street, in the middle o' the block, I would ask them to go, two girls, one go one end o' the block, one the other and tell everybody that Gilbert's snow balls were the best on the beach and I ran him outta the snow balls business. So I learned competition there. He taught me a lesson, he didn't know it and there's more to the story but I won't go into it.
Burnett: So I spent my summers at Carolina Beach and ran that stand until I went in the military. I was obsessed with becoming a military pilot and I said, I finished Burgaw High School in '43, course this is the middle o' the war, Second World War. And I wanted to become a navy pilot, I wanted to be in it was either the V12 or V5 program but you had to get your dad's signature. See I was only well by this time, about 17. Had to get the signature of a parent, my mother- it was my dad would have been the one to do it and not to do it, my mother was not involved in this particular thing. So he finally- finally signed but he signed late enough that the time passed. He knew what he was doing, he didn't want his boy to go to war to get killed. But he signed too late for me to get in the navy program. But he was a man of his word so I said Ok, I'm going for the army air corps, which he still hadn't signed. So uhm.. he- he said agree, so I went in ah.. and flunked the physical. I didn't win. I was a scrawny little thing. I had to weigh 136 pounds, believe it or not, I weighed 125- 126 pounds, 126 pounds, I weighed 125. What dad had taught me, something that Robert the Bruce King of Scotland had taught him through the books, through writings. Robert the Bruce had lost his, as I understand, six battles with England and he was about ready to throw in the kill or towel, whatever, and he saw this spider. I don't remember the type of spider, I've been told the type of spider but he was swinging it and trying to spin a web. He- one time he missed, went back and crawled up 5, 6. The 7th time, the spider caught and went on to spin the web, so Robert the Bruce said "I'm gonna go the 7th time." And he went ahead to win the war. Well I flunked the physical the first time, so I thought Robert the Bruce, I'm gonna give it another try. So this time I ate a lot o' food and all, and went in there and flunked it again. Same reason. Well, remembering Robert the Bruce, I tried it again. The 3rd time, I drank- I ate salted peanuts to make me drink a lot o' water, eat bananas and got in and then went on to become a pilot ah.. graduating in June of 1945.
Burnett: Well they asked us if any of us wanted to go overseas and 100% said yes. This is what the whole thing was about, you know, but the war was we could tell the end of things were coming. This was 1945 but we were gnawing at the bit to go overseas and I was flying uhm.. well I trained in the Cub, the Steerman, the PT17, which is type o' plane they'd fly in the First World War sorta. The AT60 Texan which was a fighter plane at one point. But then I graduated and the Mitchell B25 which was a medi- media- medium weight ah.. twin engine, bomber. And that's what I would've gone overseas with. Well we trained, if you saw the movie Pearl Harbor, you saw the pilots training, it was Colonel Doolittle, he later became a General, but he was on the hornet, the carrier. And they trained on land to take Mitchell B25's off the hornet, the carrier, to bomb Tokyo. Well I did exactly that same training, where you had a line on the runway and where you held the brakes flaps down, the plane's shaking wanting to go, you rev it up and then the plane jumps and then you ah.. take off. Before you get to the end o' the ship, which is the line in our case and then you level off immediately, you don't have the speed to climb out and you slowly milk up the flaps. You don't let the flaps come up too fast because you'll settle into the water. You milk 'em up, that is, you let 'em up a little bit and gain speed, a little more, gain speed. Finally you climb on out. So I graduated in that and then ah.. we were transferred to the 434th troop carrier. Now you'll see in Fayetteville the new museum there for the, I think it's the 82nd airborne and you will see planes that the 434, I think there they call it the 436- 443rd, 446, anyway, you'll see the- the ah.. planes, or the simulations of the planes that ah.. ended up flying, once we were transferred, we flew C47's and C46's. And the C47 and later the C46 but the C47 is the one you'll see at this museum which ah.. these guys uhm.. you know, jumped out of, jumpin' out of a perfectly good planes but anyway that's their job. But that ties in, in other words if somebody who's interested would go up there could see the type plane and all that- that I was involved in eventually. Well, the war got over. Once we were assigned to the 434, that killed our chances of goin' overseas and getting in combat and it was very disappointing. Believe- I mean sounds crazy but we were all very disappointed because that's what the whole thing was about. We were volunteers, I was, I guess all of us were volunteers, you know, who went in and initially we were not drafted. So after the war, my job was flying brass to Washington, flying br- you know, colonels or whatever, to south Kudadhunt[ph] I didn't want that, my goodness, I wanted to get on with my life. So uhm.. had there been a space program or had the air force academy been in existence, I might have tried to stay in but at that time I wanted to just go ahead and get out, I didn't want to just chauffer people around.
Burnett: So I went to Chapel Hill University North Carolina and got married, that was a mess up there with my marriage and I had two children. I mean it was a mess, I ended up leaving school and working ah.. I had to support the family. So eventually I- well I was selling socks even in school I was selling socks trying to make a buck. So I borrowed some money, I heard that this man who was dead who had a small hosiery mill in Raleigh, Glenwood Knitting Mills, and I'd been selling hosiery and I was interested in either, I liked business, you know, from the snow ball stand, I just was interested in business. So I conned my dad- I mean I talked my dad into lending me some money and the widow to the man who was dead who owned the mill, it was just a little knitting mill, just, you know, a small mill. She had to get rid o' the mill because you- I mean there's like employees gonna leave, it's gonna die, so whatever she could get out of it, she would like. So she agreed to finance some of it. So I went in to the sock knitting business but I was mainly interested in sales and I traveled from New York to Florida selling to wholesalers and chain stores and prisons. We made ah.. cotton stockins' that the ladies wore out in the fields in Mississippi ah.. we made probably more sanitary interhose for the baseball players and then devised a white cotton stockin' that they used inside and outside they had the colors without the heel and toe but we ah.. we sold a whorl o' those. I got a partner in to run the mill finally and I was on the road a good part o' the time and then on a Friday night in 1952, I think it was, I- my family and I went to White Lake for the weekend with the some friends and on Saturday morning and we had a tremendous electrical storm, rain, the chief of police came to the cottage and said "Gil," said ah.. "I got a call last night," and said ah.. "I tried to get you but it was raining so hard I couldn't wake anybody up," he said "they said your mill burnt down." He said "lightning struck your mill last night and burnt it down." Well I thought he was kidding and he said "no, I am serious. Your mill, from what they told me, has burned to the ground." Well there's a lot of lift in all that and it was basically wood with metal covering on the- it was an old building. So my wife and another wife had gone into Elizabeth Town to get some groceries, so I got in the car and went over and told her, I said "you know, the mills burnt, I gotta go to Raleigh." So I took off for Raleigh and even with all the rain, it was still a little smoke here and there but it- it had just burned to the ground.
Burnett: Well I didn't have much insurance, I didn't expect this. And ah.. I was able to pay the lady off and then I paid my dad and finally gave him the land and took clear everything out, this was over a period of time. But in the meantime, I didn't know what to do. So I literally started building a boat to keep my sanity. I had two children, a wife, you know, I didn't know what to do. And I'd drill holes for screws and think and work on this boat and think and think and I did this for weeks trying to figure out what in the world do I do. 'Cos I'm gonna have to start over 'cos I didn't have any money now. So I had toyed with the idea of maybe studying some law at night just to use it in business. I knew an executive or two who were lawyers and I had to call on lawyers, you know, occasionally and I thought, you know, ah.. I wanted to study just to use in business, maybe I should go to law school and then get my head on straight. That'll give me time to- 'cos I really- I was- I was messed up. And so I said, I'm gonna try to get in law school and then when I finish, go back into business, 'cos I love business. But I was goin' into hosiery but I had met some hosiery manufacturers, small- small business, who knitted and sold to another mill to finish and sell. And I was interested in selling. So I thought, once I finish law school, I will get these guys I've met, I will buy from them a box of labeled hosiery and then sell 'em which was- which was what I wanted to do. Well the question was, could I get in law school 'cos see I hadn't finished college. So I went to Wake Forest where my dad went and I said, "I haven't finished college, I don't want to go back to college, time is of the essence for me, I'm an old man now." By this time I was 30, right at 30. And I said ah.. "I wanna get in law school." So the dean said "we will let you meet with our faculty and if you can convince them that you should be in law school, you will get in law school." He said "there is a provision." I'd had about three years of college, 'course about three years, about three years. So I said "great, I will meet with them."
Burnett: Well, I had seen a movie one time where this student in a college, university, had to pass this foreign language test, say French, to graduate, and he broke in to the Professor's office one night. Sat in the Professor's chair, looked at hundreds of books, picked out the most conspicuous red one and brought it down, opened it, bent it back and memorized a bunch o' stuff and then translated it. Closed it, put it back. He came in the window. Put the window down. Next day he came in and the Professor looked around and said "hand me that book." Well you know what happened, it was that book, he passed. Well I thought about this and I thought I should be able to answer any question in the world that they can ask about flying, anything they can ask. And hosiery, anything they can ask, I cou- I could answer. So I thought what is the question most asked about flying. The question most asked, is what keeps the aeroplane in the air, how does it stay up there. Well it's like sailing, it's the same thing a sail on a boat but it's like a- a creek where the banks get narrow, the water flows faster as the wind goes over the wing, it goes- it actually moves and creates a partial vacuum in storm. So I got this right down pat. I mean I could talk fifteen or twenty minutes all day and I thought what is a question most asked about hosiery. The question most asked was why don't nylons last as long as they did before the war. So, I had a comb, I took a comb with me because on full fashion stockins' which they had then, which had the seam up the back as compared to circular knit which is what you see now. You have a bar 14 inches long. Now the denier is the size of the yarn. When DuPont know they started making DuPont- nylon, it was like rope practically but it got smaller, and smaller and smaller and smaller. It started out maybe 45 denier, got down to 10 which is like a spider web. Well the gauge is if it's 45 gauges, 45- there are 45 needles to the inch and a half, 60 gauge, 60, and so on. Well I got all this down pat where I could explain it where you start off with rope, now you have spider webs. You know, I had all this planned, I could speak 30 minutes on it.
Burnett: So I appeared before all these men, no women, all these men and, you know, (coughs) you know, this guy can't get in law school. So they started bombarding me with questions, all kinds o' questions, you know, why I wanted to be a lawyer and all this stuff, ethics, I mean everything imaginable. And I was in there probably an hour, maybe longer, it felt like 14 days but ah.. I'm you know, like this and I'm sitting there answering questions the best I can. Finally I think they got tired and there was a loud silence. I said now's the time, I said "gentlemen, as you know, I've been in the hosiery business and I'm a pilot and got a commercial license." I said "ask me anything in the world that you wanna ask about either ' those." I said "I should be able to answer your questions." Professor Powells, bless his little heart, married guy, later got involved with a chick on campus, had to leave, all this but at this time, "Mr Burnett, my wife has asked me something, maybe you can answer it. Why don't nylons last like they did before the war?"
Q: Oh, no.
Burnett: What I did was, like this turn out, that's what I was thinking but I didn't do that I said "well Ok, I'll give it a try." When I finished that after about 30 minutes, they didn't ask a question, I knew I was in law school, they got up and walked out. I knew I was in law school. And I finished 3rd in the class, my last year I'd been elected president o' the student bar association.
Burnett: I'll tell ya, if you'd like me to, a story involving some o' the urban in me. When I was president o' the student bar, one o' my jobs was to get a speaker for law day which was in May, feel I'm not keen and all that. So I call Sumner Urban and he said yes. Now this was over at the town of Wake Forest. Wake Forest moved the summer that I graduated and we studied the bar in the new school at Winston-Salem but this was at the old school. So he was gonna fly into Raleigh-Durham airport. I had a beat up old Buick convertible, it was green with a black top, black interior, the engine heated up, the electric windows were half up and down, I couldn't afford to get 'em fixed, they were electric. The top leaked, it was all, I couldn't even afford fuel. I sold hot dogs at ball games, you know, my wife worked part o' the time and you know, you just borrowed money, you know how it is, you've probably been through all o' this stuff. So my dad went with me, he came to Raleigh he went to Winston- Wake Forest, as I mentioned law school. Ellick Biggs, a lawyer in Rocky Mount, a student, went with me. We went over to the Raleigh-Durham airport, I was runnin' a little late, this was on the day he that he was to speak, we were to be back at 6 for the dinner and the banquet and all. So I apologized for being late. I- I had had my engine worked on so it wouldn't get hot but I was afraid it was gonna rain and Sumner Urban would get wet. So I apologized for being late, he said "don't worry." So Ellick Biggs was in the front riding shotgun, my dad was on the portside in the back, the left Mr- Senator Urban was on the starboard, the right side and I was coming back, back roads, dirt roads trying to hurry and get back. I kept looking, oh.. it's just gonna rain but it didn't rain. What happened, my engine started steaming. So I pulled into this farm yard and this farmer was standing out in his field out there, you know, what a farmer is o' course. He's the man who's out standing in his field and I went out there, the car's steaming, I put up the hood and he had one o' these old timing wheels, with the windows you crank down and I went out and I said "it's pretty obvious I need some water, could I get some." He said "yes." So we went over there and I said "I'm in sort of a hurry," 'cos he didn't walk too fast. And he got to the well and he put the bucket down in there and he got the water, Senator Urban and then were sittin' in the car about 40 feet away but it's, you know, cloudy, dark, black interior, you can't see in the car, you could tell somebody's in there but certainly you wouldn't know who it was. Well he jiggles the bucket to get the water and he's winding it up and I make a fool of myself by saying "by the way, I wanna introduce you to Senator Urban." He knows Senator Urban wouldn't be in this old car, so he figured we were robbers or something, he turned the thing a loose back, the way the water was, you know, the hell was going. I thought Burnett you really screwed up again. I said "no really, he is in the car, he's gonna speak at Wake Forest." Well he kept backing away from me, but then he backed- went around to the back of the car and came up and peeked in and said "well I'll be damned, that really is Senator Urban." Then he said "Senator Urban, I'm mighty sorry you're having all this problem." Senator Urban said "oh, it's not so bad, if we hadn't had this problem, I wouldn't 'a met you." And that's Senator Urban, that's the way he was. He had a brilliant sense o' humor and a few years later I saw him in Hawaii at a- that was what I told you was before Watergate. After Watergate, which for their information, he was chairman of the committee that investigated, you know, all that stuff. So I saw him, he was a speaker and I went up and I said "hello Senator Urban, I'm Gil Burnett, I went to Wake Forest, do you remember that?" And that's all I said. He said "I certainly do, that car heating up." He told me the whole story, in fact that night when he spoke, he had a field day with that thing, 'bout the car heating up and all that, you know, he was a sharp guy. So when I graduated from law school.
Q: Well slow down a little Ok.
Burnett: Ok, ok, sure.
Q: Well let's go back and talk a little bit about law school, what were the techniques that were used, who were some of the Professors?
Burnett: Dr Robert E Lee.
Q: Robert E Lee?
Burnett: Dr Robert E Lee, he had a son, Robert E Lee, who was a student with me, Junior, who ah.. you know, was in law school also. Dr Robert E Lee is- at one point was Dean of the law school. He had one eye, one eye was put out somewhere, I forget now. But ah..
Q: Wasn't in the war was it?
Burnett: I- I'm not aware that it was in war.
Q: The Civil War?
Burnett: (laughs) That's good, I need feedback. Yeah. I don't know how he lost his eye but he wouldn't drive at night but he'd have to speak at night so once in a while he'd ask one o' the students, sometimes it was me. He said "how about driving me," it wouldn't be too far 'cause I couldn't be away from my studies but, you know, maybe go over to Raleigh to give a talk or somethin' like that. But we became friends and I remember one time in class, he snarled when he talked. He just snarled. And we ah.. wore a shirt and tie and they expected you to, you know, dress half way decently, all- you didn't have to wear a tie but in class one time, and he taught personal property ah.. domestic relations, trusts, no he didn't teach trusts. Anyway, in one of his classes, for some reason he said "Mr Burnett," he said "if you told people around that I was a sorry Professor, that I was no good as a Professor, that you didn't learn from me, could I sue you for slander?" I couldn't resist, I had to say, I said "well, Dr Lee, you know, truth is a perfect defense." Well, I- the camp class cracked up and I almost went back and apologized but I- I didn't, I thought no, I didn't. And I think he was glad I didn't, what the heck, you know. And we- he- he was this kind of person that he would confront you but he would confront your brain too.
Burnett: Now I had two children and a wife, we stayed in ah.. the sort of a victor village type place, $25 a month for a couple o' bedrooms, it was just a little shack ah.. but a lot o' students were there and when you got a lot o' students there in shacks with ya, it doesn't make any difference, you're all tryin' to get through law school. Or some of 'em were in undergraduate school. So I couldn't study at home because in law as you probably, well you'd know, and you probably do too ah.. you get down thinking about the law and if somebody disturbs you, you lose your track. Now I did a lot o' my thinking uhm.. in the middle of the night, really, I'd wake up, I'd have some problem and I wasn't disturbed by sight, it was dark a.. ah.. my mind's clear and I think about a problem and I could go down like the roots of a tree, go down this way and over here, and this might take several minutes, and I think is that a solution. No, so I work back up and I go down this way, is that a solution, no. Well see if somebody says "Hi Daddy," you know, wait a minute, I've lost it. So I had- I could not study at home except in the middle of the night, I would think but my studying was done at the library but my theory was, if I had a problem to solve, and- and didn't have it solved, if I wake up at night, I would go down, like I say the roots of the tree, and you could go way down here. The, you know, it's what might happen if you go this way, or what might happen if you go this way. And try to come up with a realistic solution 'cos there's a lot o' logic in law. Lots o' logic and I'm just telling you stuff you know. So I studied at the library and I had a ritual. I had to have a ritual, I'm a slow reader and this is not bad in the law because it's not a novel that you're reading. You have to study it, you have to re-read and study and look at every word because one word can make all the difference in the world. So I'd go to the library and there were a few of us who studied in the library but I had- I had learned fortunately to type in high school and that's helped me all o' my life. So I had a typewriter at the law school, I had my own area and I had, you develop your own shorthand. Now we read- we read the cases for- for class. And then we have the rule o' law. Well I had two color ribbons, black and red. The real law I put in red 'cos that's the crux of the thing. And I have that and I put that on the right se- side my o'- book. I had, you know, any number of notebooks. So then in class when we discussed these, I would have my shorthand K for contract, W for whip, I mean you just make up your own little shorthand 'cos you can't copy everything that fast, or I couldn't and I did not know shorthand as such. And within two or three hours, while my notes were hot, or warm, I would then go in and get at my typewriter and type what I needed to type, spell it out and put that across from on the left side of the page. So I had the case here and the notes here. And this was my routine. I couldn't let 'em ah.. get cold, you know, for a week or two, I couldn't maybe couldn't make sense of it. And while they were hot, I could do that and I'd do it normally the same day, maybe a day later but usually that afternoon or morning, whatever, I would uhm.. type up my notes. And so I had excellent notes which helped me and ah.. I mean it helped me tremendously. Of course you've got your statutes and all this and another advantage of being in the law school for studying, there were other students there too, not a lot, but ah.. quite a few and we're on the same frequency. So you reach a problem you can't solve, you get other law students, you band it around which is a great way to do it. You know, you- you just reason with all these lawyers and students and then finally you come up with what you think is probably right and then you go with that. So that was an excellent benefit, having other students close by and at home I wouldn't have had that, maybe go next door and disturb somebody, something like that.
Q: But there weren't any formal groups like that. I know in today's law school, many of them actually require that you have a kind of cohort study group that works together right through a course. They even say you have to have.
Burnett: Oh really.
Burnett: Well, there was nothing formal. I- we just did it, it came naturally and- and the other students wanted it as much as I did and we ah.. and you might have a turnover in the students but usually a nucleus and others would come in and fade out and so on. But and Dr Lee would come up there at night and work. Dr Robert E Lee, I had, let's see I had Dean Wethers, he taught trusts, uhm.. Sizemore, Webster, ah.. I can't remember all the names, I could later but ah.. probably but anyway uhm.. the ones who impacted me the most, Dean Wethers and Dr Robert E Lee. Dean Wethers said one time, he said "when you get to a town to practice law, get to know the members of the news media." He said "they will be in touch with you from time to time," he said "get to know 'em well enough that they can trust you, be honest with 'em, they want to respect you and you respect them." And that has paid tremendous dividends for me, getting to know the members of the news media. And I can get into that later if you like, 'cos I lectured on this some around the country to judges how do you deal with the news media but then I had to study this and talk to a lot of editors and say. So I finished law school and this firm in Charlotte contacted me when in Raleigh, I thought about Asheville, thought about Florida but I love the southeast o' North Carolina. I grew up here.
Q: You didn't think about going back into business?
Burnett: Oh, in the meantime, in the meantime, I fell in love with the law. I fell in love- now I'm actually in business now but I fell in love with the law and the law is a jealous mistress. You probably heard that. The law is a jealous mistress. You have to pay it attention, you have to stay in close touch, you have to look after it or it can leave. The law, and Dr Robert E Lee said that, it's not original to me. The law is a jealous mistress. If you don't like the law, don't get in it. I mean if you don't want to study law and study and study and study ah.. don't get in it. Because it demands your time like a jealous mistress or it'll just leave you. So I thought about business but when I got in law, in law school, I did not realize that my dad, who as I said was a lawyer, thought law and talked law and lived law all the time as an example. He would say, when I borrowed the car to go to a ball game say, and he'd say "go straight there and straight back." That didn't mean much to me except just go there and back. Once I got into taught law, it's the family purpose doctorate, which means, if he gave me authority to go to the school and back, and I had a wreck along the way, he'd be responsible. But if I took off to Raleigh on a side trip, the law back then, was different. Uh uh, it's like being out of the scope of your employment. You uhm.. you're an employee here and you have a van to go downtown to pick up somethin' but you go to Myrtle Beach to have lunch. That's outside of the scope. I didn't realize that dad had done that all the time, so a lot of this law fell right into place like there's a niche for this and this and this which made law more meaningful to me having been in business, made it far more meaningful to me. Far more meaning. Even having flown later, I had a case with a crash and- and having flown, helped me with that case, you know, an aeroplane crash.
Burnett: So I finished law school, and ask any questions if I'm sorta leavin' somethin' out. But I just fell in love with the law and decided, this will be my life's work. But I still like business and I say I'm in some business. So I decided to come back home. I love the ocean, I love this area, it's sub tropical, it's zone A in plan people would say it's the hardness and the coldness of the winters that does that and I just- I love the tropics, I spent time there when I was young. So I thought, this is where I need to live and I've never- never regretted the decision one second. I mean coming back to this area, it's a great area to be.
Burnett: Well, I was going to open my law office but I learned that two lawyers, Oliver Carter and Wallace Merkson[ph] you've talked to Wallace, they were in partnership and I heard they wanted an associate. They were on the 5th or 6th floor of the old CPNL building now it's an administration building. So I went downstairs to the payphone and called up there and th- talked to Wallace Merkson, and I said I'd like an interview to come up to work with you. He said "Ok, what time?" I said "how about 10.30?" He said "well it's 10.25 now." Just playin' a little game, you can tell Wallace that. And he said "Ok." So I just got in the elevator and went up. You know, you do things to get people's attention. Well I got the job and they were ar- well- Ol- Oliver's deceased now but Wallace is- two of the finest men I've ever known. Really two of the finest people I have ever known. They both were brilliant, are brilliant with one. They were considerate and understanding and were teaching to me. They were ready to teach me anything that I wanted to learn and it was a great experience and it was- it was far better for me to work with them a year and a half than go out on my own at first. Then I went out on my own, opened a law office at the corner of 3rd and Princess, it's on the south west corner, 3rd and Princess, it's now called the Wallace Building. Well it was called the Wallace Building then, an old building. And my dad in the meantime had retired. So I said "Dad," see I use people, I said "I want to put your name on the window with mine, we'll put yours first and ah.. you don't have to do a thing except advise me on the estate work." Well he advised other lawyers, a lot o' lawyers called him in because he was very familiar with the law and he'd help 'em on, you know, the large estates. He settled Buck Duke's estate, you know, old man Duke, Duke University. Ah.. Bob- Bob Reynolds, RJ Reynolds, he settled those estates. He worked with the treasury department. Course they had lawyers, so they worked together on the estates but he- he was an attorney for the government and Mr Stevens, a very good lawyer here who did a lot of estate work. Told me one time, he said "you know your dad, I worked with him on a lot of estates." He said "he wouldn't give you a penny but he wouldn't take a penny they weren't entitled to." He said "he wanted it to be exactly right." I was pleased.
Q: What is your father's name?
Burnett: John Henry Burnett. John Henry Burnett.
Q: Ok, good, keep going.
Burnett: Yep. He ah.. was a son of John William Henry Burnett, the son of John William Henry Burnett. The son of John Solemn Burnett who had the sail loft here in Wilmington and uhm.. my grand daddy, I- I might toss this out. Well the sail loft was at the north east corner of Water and Dock, down on Water. And my grand daddy who woulda been the grandson to that man, had ah.. cattle, he ranged cattle in the south end of the county down where the aquarium is now. All that area, it was free range, just like in Texas, free range. You fenced in your house, the curtledge around the house or whatever but ah.. it was free ranged, originally all over and then gradually they started fencing in cattle and ah.. this I guess started in early part of ah.. the 1900's. But anyway, he had cattle down there, my grand daddy was born in 1860, died in 1950 and had cattle down there in the late 1800's when he was young. And my- his brother owned property from the ocean way back toward the river down in that area too, in fact I'll tell ya a story. His name was Tom Burnett ah.. my grand daddy's brother and he had farming area down there and had two monstrous oak trees which are still there today, live oaks, and he said those trees cost him a lot of money. Because the hands, the field hands, people worked out in the field of cotton or whatever, they would come in for dinner which was in the middle of the day. We call it lunch, in the hot summer and when they finished, in under the shade trees, they didn't want to go back. And- and he had to nudge 'em to get 'em to go back to work. These were not slaves now, these were not slaves and he said those trees cost him a lot o' money. So I came to Wilmington and ah.. then later opened an office and practiced a general practice, just a general law practice. And somewhere in there I ran for the legislature and lost.
Q: No wait, that seems like a casual statement?
Burnett: Well it- I think that it now is sorta that. And there were several reasons to run, you know, you get, I mean law- lawyers, this is one thing lawyers do to get known a little bit, you know. Your family doesn't bring ya much business, in fact they think of you as that little kid knocking around, you know, they don't think of you as a lawyer. Although some of 'em did come. But then Judge H Winfield Smith who was recorders court judge, tall man, probably six to six one, slender, you know, trim, he had studied at the law school here ah.. the couple I ca- I was trying to think o' the names.
Burnett: Rodgers, Mr and Mrs Rodgers, Mr and Mrs Rodgers. They had a law school here. You'd call it reading law or somebody would read law like I think Judge Bense[ph] read law with his father-in-law, I think, now he may have gone to University too I'm not sure but I heard that he did some reading I'll say. But this was a law school, Jimmy Swales went there, Albert Brown, Aaron Goldberg, uhm.. and some others I forget but Judge Winfield Smith went there. And after a time, now I didn't know him back then, but when I came here, he was judge of the recorders court.
Q: What was a recorders court, that term doesn't seem familiar to me?
Burnett: Since the beginning of this country, they would design a court for the circumstances of the area. Now you had a superior court and you had a supreme court, a better court. But in a county like say- say Cumberland County up at Fayetteville, you would need a court like you did here for the county so they called it a recorders court. That was the name of it a recorders court. They'd try misdemeanors, primarily, felonies would go to the superior court, civil cases went to the superior court with juries but like in Fayetteville, they had a county recorders court. Then Fayetteville grew up, so you need a court for the city, general city court, say. And you had JP's, Justices of the Peace which were called JP's, Judgment for the Plaintiff. If you went before a JP for a speeding ticket, the JP got paid if you were found- found guilty. Yeah. If you're found guilty. I mean this is crazy but you might be have a man who runs a service station out in the country as a JP, he's not a lawyer, it was they need one there. Ah.. some other place, a little community, you gotta have some justice for minor things so they have a JP, Justice of the Peace. He gets paid if you're found guilty. This needs to be done away with. So we had a hodge podge of courts in North Carolina, just a hodge podge of courts. In about 1964 or 5, along in there, the legislature decided to set up a commission to study our court system and court systems all over to come up with a new court system. They came up with one we did away completely with the JP's. You had magistrates, they were paid salaries, they cannot take tips. They hear limited civil cases, yeah, yeah, I mean gratuities, they're not supposed to do that. They're government employed. They ah.. heard civil cases up to say two thousand ten, it's- it's moved up through the years. They heard guilty pleas of ah.. minor criminal cases back then, if you get thirty days $50 fine, that may have changed some. They could perform marriages, they worked under the supervision of the chief district court judge, then you had the district court which hears 95% of all cases, all misdemeanors that are contested. There are four divisions, criminal which is misdemeanors, felony of probable causes- cause, civil cases up to it was ten thousand, may have been changed but a lawyer could bring a two million dollar case if he wanted to in district court and if the other side agreed, the district court hears it. And one lawyer told me his whole firm brought him to this court, you have trial faster, the judge was trained in the law, he said, the judge, you know, the judge is just as good but you get to trial faster but the court didn't normally bring any of the big cases to superior court. The criminal cases are appealed from district court, superior court if they want to appeal. You heard domestic cases and juvenile cases.
Q: So most of the great Voima[ph] cases were in this district court?
Burnett: District court. 95% of all cases. You go in there with a two hundred case document for a day.
Q: A day?
Burnett: A day, it's not unusual. A hundred's probably standard, you know, average but you've got to do something with these cases. Well the law of average works with you. Now we tried havin' half day courts with ah.. calendars for each half. I- well let's have full day courts for criminals. For civil you can get more tried if you have a two week session than- two one week sessions because if you start a case on Friday morning, you can go over to Monday to trial and get far more cases through. And sometimes you have to battle with people to get this stuff done. We- it makes you more efficient. So.
Q: Smith was?
Burnett: Smith was the recorders court judge.
Q: Which was like a current district court.
Burnett: Well yes but district court has more- more civil and domestic and so on. Well the new court was coming into being in 1966 in a few counties to work out the bugs, not this county. We came in in 1968. Judge Smith was going to run, he would win, he was loved by everyone, he would win. Now of all the district judges, one judge is selected by the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court as Chief Judge. The Chief Judge sets the schedules for the judges, supervises the clerks office as far as district court goes. Ah.. supervises the magistrates, you know, sorta where the buck stops. The district court stays in the district normally, now we could be sent out by the chief justice, you know, to fill in for another judge but superior court sits here and throughout the division. So one advantage in district court, was you stayed home at night. Which was to me was a big advantage. When he came by my office one day, Judge Smith and I can remember, I'm right across from the courthouse between the courthouse and where he would usually eat. He stopped in one day and said "did you get 'em?"
Burnett: Now oh.. and the way- incidentally I- after I had started practicing law, he asked me one time if I would be his assistant on recorders court bench. I said "you have great experience." So I was his assistant two years. This was about 1960 to 62. Anyway, when they were having sit-ins in Greensboro, which you know about, we were having the same thing here. And some people from up north and that's where they'd come from, came down here to stir up the kids and to try to make the courts look like fools, I'm serious. Some o' these people would come down here and try to tie up the court. Well Judge Smith would naturally hear these cases. I was fresh outta law school. I said "Judge, let me hear these cases." I said "I wanna hear 'em." I could identify with some o' these kids, heck if I couldn't eat in a restaurant, I'd a probably been doing the same thing. But they would sit in and block a restaurant or the Manner Theater, a group o' kids would get ready to go down there and somebody would call the theater and then not hang up the phone. So the theater could not call the police and all these kids would go down there and say let us in or we're gonna block it and they'd block it. You know, it was stuff like this, uhm.. they'd sit in at the I think it was the S & H Caf- some Cafeteria here. They would block it, "we want food." Just like Greensboro.
Burnett: Well this one white minister came down here and he was, you know, with all of this stuff. Well some of the judges in the south would throw the book at these kids. I didn't use that approach at all. First of all, I could identify with somebody, I mean I tried to. If I was in their shoes, what would I do. So as an example with the, I guess it was the theater group, they came in and under the law, they were guilty. But I was gonna be just as light on 'em as I possibly could because see if I- say I gave 'em two days in jail, or a fine, they refused to pay, they appeal the superior court, they tie up the courts forever and a day. Ask for jury trials, no. I mean, it was amazing the games that some of 'em would play. They were trying to just well, you're too young to remember this probably in '62 but ah.. it was- it was sorta chaotic but not as much so as later. So I would put costs on, and if they really couldn't pay costs, I'd say "Ok, I'll remit that." Which takes the wind outta their sails. And this white minister came up to me, he said "Judge, I've read all kind of stuff about what's happening this hour," he said, "I am satisfied with the way you've handled these cases, I'm goin' home." We had hundreds of cases and of course a lot of my time was over there but I wanted- I didn't- I mean Judge Smith was smart, he was a good judge but I felt as a younger guy, I should help him and that's why I volunteered and he said, you know, you can handle these cases and I was grateful to him that he let me do it.
Burnett: So I quit as his assistant after a couple o' years, went back to full-time practice so then when the new court system was comin' in, he came by my office one day and said "Gil, you oughta run for Judge." He said ah.. "they'll be electing three." Now they have I don't know six or seven, I'm not sure how many. And he said- he could make you feel like you could do great things, you know, he could just boost you up and, you know, you can do this, and this and this. I said "well, I'll think about it." Everyday, after lunch, he'd come in "Gil, you oughta make a decision, filin' time's comin'." So finally I said "Judge, I've made a decision, I'm not gonna run." I said "I enjoy law practice, I've never had any desire to be a Judge," and I said "I'm not gonna run." He said "Ok." And left. About a day later he came back, "Gil, you oughta reconsider." And he'd tell ya off. So finally I thought, you know, what the heck. I might win, there were several who obviously were gonna run. And might like it, if not, so four years, you know, go back to practice. So I thought about it and I thought, I'm gonna, I don't have to have this job of judge. So I made two promises to myself. One was that I would never run scared. People can intimidate you, I've been- my life has been threatened three times, three times well where the sheriff felt my family and I needed security and they provided it, till the thing was resolved. I decided I would never run scared, I might get shot but I would- 'cause that could affect your decisions. And I said I can't handle that. And I didn't care who came before me, it could be the biggest lawyer in the country, or the town, the biggest clown, or the guy who's riding on the back of a garbage truck with no lawyer. I didn't care, I simply didn't care. I was gonna handle 'em the same, and I knew I'd get a lot o' static and did get a lot o' static. But I didn't care. I didn't have to have the blasted job. People wanted me- to vote me out ah.. but they seemed to like that approach. You build an image, you build an image in whatever you do. A judge, I'm talkin' about right now and the news helps you with that. So I ran, won, Judge Smith was the ah.. Chief Judge, he was appointed Chief Judge immediately, and should have been. He died a year- couple o' years later, I was appointed Chief Judge and ah.. held that position until I retired.
Q: Stop for a second. This is the second tape of the interview of Gil Burnett, Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial Circuit Retired, North Carolina, and he's being interviewed by Sherman Hayes, the Librarian at UNCW and Mike Haas.
Burnett: I'll tell you somethin' funny, you're talkin' about the Klan in the break. This man I won't call his name, he was a member of the Klan but I knew him, he came into court from time to time. He wanted to ah.. know the lawyers and the judges and he'd sorta hang around court from time to time but I had to find him guilty on several occasions for some criminal acts. And one day he came to me, back then we didn't have security at the courthouse, he could knock on my door, I said "come in." He said "Judge I wanna ask a favor." I said "what in the world's a favor." He said "I've got a case comin' up upstate somewhere," he said "would you write a letter for me, a letter of recommendation?" I said "I'll write a letter for you but I'm gonna put in there about the cases I've convicted you of." He said "I don't care." I said "Ok, I'll do it." So I wrote in there, I said "I have no knowledge whatsoever about the case that's comin' on but I do know the man I've had him in court and he's been convicted of this," and that was it. And he was- he was- he's dead now, he's dead.
Q: Elected- Tell us a little bit about what was involved with running. In other words you just say we run, but it wasn't just put your name out, what was involved with?
Burnett: Well, uh.., had to get organized. So I talked to people around the district. This was a district, New Hanover and Pender Counties. I'm from Pender County, so I knew a fair- a fair amount of people up there. And my mother and dad were living up in Burgaw, and they had friends. And I had cousins down here- like Dick Burnett. He was uh.. on the City Council at one point, years ago. His dad, Captain Dick Burnett- his father was a superintendent of roads here before the state took over the roads, in the county. In fact, he went to Europe and learned how to make a blacktop road and started blacktop roads in this area- you know, asphalt. And he and High Buddy Wade, you may have heard of Mr. High Buddy Wade- j-e-a-l Wade. He was a mayor of the town. Vionny [ph?] was on the Town Council a lot. They were friends. And Mr. High Buddy Wade, who started the big Christmas tree out here, and Captain Dick Burnett walked the road around Greenfield Lake, which is there now. They walked and- and uh.. that's how that road got exactly where it is. But Captain uh.. Dick- Richard Burnett and uh.. High Buddy Wade were the reason for that uh.. road. And his son (clears throat) Dick Burnett involve- was involved in politics some. He'd been assistant personnel manager for the shipyard here, when they were building ships. He was personnel manager at Babcock & Wilcox, and then they asked- uh.. he retired and they asked him at the new hospital, the Memorial Hospital out here, to be personnel manager there, and they'd help him get set up until somebody else could- could come in and take over. So he helped 'em- helped 'em set that up. So I got people like that out campaigning. Uh.. we had coffees, you know, in homes. Uh..
Q: Now was this a non-partisan election or was it a Democratic?
Burnett: Uh.. Democrat, Republican, but no Republicans were running. Back then, the Democrat- Democrats were the- it was the predominant party, but- and this is a big but- within the Democratic Party you had several parties. You had liberals, you had liberal moderate, moderate, moderate conservative, conservative. I leaned more toward conservative. I'm a registered Democrat, but uhm.. I- in many respects I'm very- I call my- I was interviewed by the- a lady with the New York Times Magazine a year or two ago and she said, "What party are you affiliated with?" and I said, "I'm in- I'm a realist, a hardcore realist." She said, "No, I mean Republican or Democrat." I said, "I am a hardcore realist"- which is what I am. Deal with people as they really are and you can maybe get 'em where you would hope they would be later. But anyway, I'm a registered Democrat, and most of the people were. And you had very conservative Democrats in office. Uh.. you didn't have many liberals. You had moderates and conservative. Then it started going toward the liberal side. But now, even now, you have very conservative people in the Democratic Party, uh.. just like you have some liberals in the Republican Party. But they- some- some of these talk show hosts label if you're a Democrat, you're a radical liberal or somethin', which is crazy.
Burnett: But anyway, uhm.. we were all running on the Democratic ticket- no Republicans. I happened to be elected. Judge Smith became Chief Judge. And we had the four divisions- civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile. Well, Judge Smith stayed in criminal but Judge Tiller [ph?], who later went to the Superior Court, and now is retired, we would rotate. But I got in Juvenile Court, and I didn't know anything about Juvenile Court. I think I'd been there twice as a lawyer. I'd say, "Judge, you tell me what to do." I mean, it was a foreign court to me. But once I got in there and started hearin' cases- and I'm very serious about this- I realized this was the second most important court that we have, the Supreme Court being the top, and Juvenile Court being second, in my view. Because you had kids who were beginning a life of crime, kids who were neglected, abused. Many of 'em got--. Uh.. this woman- this woman, she had a 14-year-old son. He was stealing. She was a nice lady, the widow of a professional man. If you met her- she was very attractive- you'd say she is a nice woman. She was an inept parent. I told her. She said- about her son said, "Well, it's just a mischievous act." I said, "Ma'am, your son is stealing. You need to accept this fact and realize it's wrong, because what you're saying comes through to your son and you will send him to prison if you don't--." But she thought I was nuts, psychotic and crazy. I knew he'd be back. Next time he came in for a more serious criminal felony. In fact, he came in two or three times- three or four times. But I knew he'd keep comin' back as long as she had this view. Well he came back and this time, the last time- he was 15- she said, "All kids do that." I said, "Ma'am, all kids do not break in houses and steal. You are sending your son to prison." Well, still later, she said, "I think I'm beginning to understand what you're saying." But the child went to prison and is now dead. And I saw her one day in a store. I felt sorry for her 'cuz she- there's so many people who don't know how to parent. They don't know how to parent. They don't know how to make a child responsible for his conduct. And I saw her in a store and I was going to say, "I am mighty sorry to hear about your son." I said, "I'm mighty sorry-", and she started screaming, "I can't talk about it, I can't talk about it." I think at some point she realized she had sent her son to prison and killed him- not intentionally, you don't do it intentionally. And that's what this book was about, that I was tellin' you about.
Burnett: So when I got in Juvenile Court, I realized this was a very important court. So I said, "I'm gonna make this court a hobby." I didn't play golf- I did do some sailing. But I could work on juvenile stuff in the weekend- you know, study the backgrounds and the history and all this stuff of the juvenile field. Well one thing that was bad though, we were locking kids up in jail with adult criminals. So we uh.. finally got that taken care of, by building a juvenile facility. And then what I did not know though was that there was a partial vacuum around the world in the leadership in the juvenile field. I didn't know this. So it was like- almost like a sponge. When word got out that I was interested, I swwwp- you know, people'd ask me to speak. I was put on the Juvenile Law Study Commission by the governor. And the Juvenile Study Commission- which had a couple of judges and social workers and probation officers, you know, just a general group of people in the juvenile field- we went over every piece of legislation concerning children that went to the legislature. And we could have our input, change- you know, recommend this- because we were more realistic. I'm from the hardcore realist party- you know, let's be realistic in dealing with these children. If you don't have to deal with 'em, in the legislature, you can make all kind of fancy laws. No, deal with 'em as they are. So.. one day I got a call, from uh--. Now, I- I didn't do just juvenile. That was only about a day a week and the rest of it was criminal or civil or- and others did some juvenile work.
Q: In other words, you were rotating?
Burnett: Rotatin', we were rotating.
Q: Even within the week you would do a different court--?
Burnett: Well, normally if--. No. Normally if you were in Civil, you stayed in Civil awhile- maybe six months. Then you'd rotate to Criminal and Juvenile- have Juvenile maybe a day a week. And then we had court up in Pender. I had to work all this- you know, schedule all this. Judge Smith did not wanna hear those. So Judge Tiller and I heard 'em, and then they got more judges and so on. So.. I was- I got a call from.. the university. Well uh.. the University of Nada- Nevada at Reno- out there you have the National Judicial College, at the University of Nevada at Reno- and the National Council of Juvenile Offender Court Judges, and they put on courses. Uh.. the National Council puts 'em on all over the country. And uh.. the Judicial College basically is there and judges from all over go to this Judicial College- and they have some other places too but this one is known all over as probably the granddaddy. The reason it's at Reno, Mr. Fleishmann- Fleishmann, he set up a foundation. He was from Chicago. This- this group used to be in Chicago, the National Council. And he wanted to upgrade the image of Reno. So he gave a lot of money to move this school down there. I don't say bringing judges upgraded it any, but that's for you to decide. But uh.. so now judges go to Reno instead of Chicago. It's been there for quite a few years.
Burnett: So I got a call from there saying that they were having a- a national conference in Louisville, Kentucky. They sponsor 'em all over. And they'd have probably 250, 300 people- judges, D.A.s, district attorneys, lawyers, defense attorneys, social workers- all kinds of people- for this uh.. conference. And the last- it'd last two or three days, and the day it was to end, which I think was a Saturday morning, at ten o'clock would be- the last speaker was gonna be Governor- Governor Hunt, when he was in his first term, as I recall. And they said, "Would you come and introduce him?" Well I thought, "I don't know why you're calling me but I'll be glad to that"- you know, come in and introduce my governor, I'm proud of him. So, I planned to do that. And uh.. several days later, before I was to go out, I got another call. They said, "It turns out Governor Hunt cannot come. Would you come and give his talk?" I said, "Well I cannot give his talk. Whadda ya want me to talk about?" They said, "Well we understand that you've been innovative in coming up with some ways to treat juveniles there and-." See, we had- uh.. I set up a committee here with a bunch of people- logical people to go over cases before I disposed of "em. There are two parts to a case- the adjudication, did he do it or not, and then the disposition, what in the name of goodness do I do now? Do I put him on probation, give him time or whatever? So I had this committee go over it and make recommendations- nothing binding, just recommendations to me, because I didn't know this guy in front of me. They'd do social histories, psychologicals- all so I knew who I- who I was dealing with. We set up the uh.. North Carolina Ocean Sciences Institute to work with delinquents here in the marine field, you know, in the ocean and all that- I was tellin' you about that earlier. And uh.. Dr. Ralph Brower [ph?] worked with me on that and Bennie Schwartz and uh.. Rafer Trask and Addison Hewlett and Tommy Rhodes and uh.. Dr. Hayward Bellamy. And we wanted something permanent though- I didn't just want a grant and have to spend half the time gettin' grants. So Dr. Bellamy got it in the school system. It was to work with delinquents. Later the night school joined it and uh.. now it's evolved into Lakeside School- that's what it's called now. But I have to give 99% of the credit to Dr. Hayward Bellamy, on that.
Burnett: So they said, "Come and tell us how you set up these organizations- how do you do it?" You know, how do you get the people? What- how do you start an organization to do whatever it is you wanna do? And I thought, this is a national audience, people from- and people from around the world come to these things too. And I thought, yeah, I'll do it. I didn't know how I'd do it- how I was gonna do it, in some ways. And I thought, you know, go for it. So I went out there--. And I might mention, 'cuz this'll play in later, I have a hobby of photography and I do underwater photography, and I've taken uh.. correspondence- my son-in-law and my daughter's down there in Bonaire- on underwater photography. So.. I said, "I'll do it." So I was the last speaker. And these- these are fringe benefits for me. But uh.. maybe--. Do you wanna hear this sort of stuff?
Burnett: Okay. So, at these meetings, the National Council has- passes around papers to all the people attending and they have to rate you. Did he know what he was talking about? Can you use it? And uh.., you know, all kind of questions. Well they must've felt sorry for me because they were generous. So then I got a call later saying would you be interested in coming to a- I think it was a two-week school on adult education- so you can teach adults- because I didn't know it, I'd never thought of that. But it's a different approach. An adult wants to use what you teach him now, whereas the students here, they may or may not use it a year, five, ten years from now. But adult education, they want it now. So it was very interesting to me to see the approach to adult education. Of course, then uh..--. Oh yeah, then, after that, I was asked if I would be on their faculty. I said, "Faculty?" I said, "I'm a judge, I'm not--." "No, no, no. Our faculty doesn't necessarily stay here. We bring 'em from different parts of the country, to go to different parts of the country to speak for us, at these conferences and such." I said, "Well let me check with my Chief Justice. I- I- I- I'm not paid to do that." So I called him and he said, "Do it." He said, "Nobody's ever been asked to do that before in North Carolina. Do it and we will send judges down there, when they're needed to sit for you. Do it." And the Director, the Administrative Officer of the Courts, Franklin Friedman, who is one of the top assistants for Governor Easley now, was head of the- you know, Director of the Administrative Offices, and he said yes. He said, "Get away, we'll send one." Well what I usually did, I'd take vacation, frankly. Uh.. that was only fair. Uh.. and I didn't speak often- maybe once every three or four months- you know, you'd get a call and I could fly down to Pascagoula, Mississippi and be back the next night. You know, so I'd lose two days, so I'd just take vacation. And if I was going like to uh.. Colorado Springs, I took my wife, took a week's vacation- give the talk at the beginning and then rent a car and, you know, just travel. So it was a fringe benefit, mainly uhm.. because I got a chance to talk and have interactions with judges and such. And then being on the Juvenile Study Commission, that was a tremendous fringe benefit because I could be involved in legislation that affected me in the court and use the court exper- experience in the legislation- you know, and try and influence it this way.
Burnett: Well, the- the Chief Justice said do it. So I did that some. But they didn't abuse me, in other words they didn't ask me every two or three weeks. I could- I couldn't have done that. But three or four months, take a little vacation. So then one day.. I got a call. They said, at the national- "We want you to do a- a photo exhibit." I said, "A photo exhibit?" They said, "Yeah, we understand you take pictures." I said, "Well, I'm not that caliber." They said, "No, we- we hear differently. We want you to do it at the National Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a photo exhibit, if you would do it." And I started thinkin' real fast. I said, "I'll tell ya what I'll do. I'll make a photo exhibit of the fantasies of Judge Rumbottom." He said, "What in the hell is that?" I said- and I pulled this name out of a restaurant in St. Thomas, Lord Rumbottom's Restaurant. And they're supposed to have the best prime rib in the world- and it was uh.. as- as good as any of them to eat. So I said, "Judge Rumbottom", I said, "these are his fantasies." It's an imaginary judge and judges- this judge has fantasies." They said, "Do it." So, I called uhm.. a friend of mine who has a big sailboat. I said, "Uh.. one of Judge Rumbottom's fantasies is to be on the mast of a sailboat lookin' down on some girls in bikinis." Now I got a- I took one of my old robes and had red racing stripes put on the back. And I had- uh.. a- a trooper made of big oversized gavel for me and I painted it black with red racing stripes. And I went up the mast of this sailboat and this guy, Dulles Harris, you may know him, he said, "You- you bring the camera, I'll have the ladies there." So he had champagne, had the black robe on. It was all in fun- and these ladies in bikinis and all. And I was way up the mast taking these pictures. Then we went out in the ocean and took some. We uhm..- I took one of the--. I didn't take 'em there to sell, but the judges wanted buy 'em- some of 'em around the world. The- the favorite one was- I took orders for it. I said, "If you want, okay, I'll take orders"- you know, a nominal fee, the cost of it. And one was this woman dressed- she's a blonde, long hair- in what looks like a negligee, she's knocking on the judge's door- it says Judge's Chamber. And behind her- and I was taking the picture behind her- she's knocking and she's got a bottle of champagne and two glasses on, behind her, and she's knocking on the Judge's Chamber door. And I had uh.. the judge holding court with the gavel hitting the witness over the head with a little balloon that said, don't lie to me. I'm sure many judges have wanted to hit 'em over the head- don't lie to me. You know? And just stuff like that. I had about 30- scuba diving, the judge with his robe on scuba diving, got pictures of that. And uh.. it was interesting though, the- once word got out I was doing this, people would suggest things- like this doctor suggested the judge be a surgeon. Now this was a family practitioner suggesting he be a surgeon. A man who was going to be a priest, a friend of mine, who decided to get out of it, said, "Of all people, have the judge like Solomon." You know? It was interesting to me the- the feedback I got from a lotta people when word got out that I was doing the fantasies of Judge Rumbottom.
Burnett: So anyway, I uh.. took those down there and showed 'em- plus some underwater shots and such. And uhm.. Uh.. oh, and- and then, uh.. later, a judge came up to me- in fact it was at that meeting. Now the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is made up of judges, and the trustees are judges. And they- a lot of judges wanna have impact on legislation and they wanna be on this board, and you get to meet at some exotic places too. They came and asked me, they said- one of 'em did- said, "Would you be on the Board of Trustees if you were elected?" And I thought- I said, "well, yeah", you know. He said, "Well, I've- we- we have talked, judges from Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, uh.. several states said, "If- I was told that if you would agree, we will get you in." I was- that blew my mind. You know, I didn't ask for it. And so uh.. I had to leave to go to a meeting but I got word later that I had been elected. So I ended up on the Board of Trustees of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, which uh.. really was sort of a highlight. And then, you know, I got an award here and there. But that's--.
Q: You said after a couple of years you became the lead judge. Is that the--?
Burnett: Chief- yeah, it's called Chief Court- Chief District Court Judge.
Q: And you stayed that for many years?
Burnett: Until I retired. So I- I- I got that position right after Judge Smith died, which was about 1971/2- along in there.
Q: Right. And when did you retire?
Burnett: August 1st 1941 was my first day of retirement.
Q: No- 1991?
Burnett: '90-'91- I beg your pardon. Not '41. (laughs) Uh.. I'm getting older now. Yeah, 19- you're right. August 1st 1991, yes.
Q: So almost 20 years then you were--?
Burnett: I was on the bench 23 years and Chief Judge uhm.. 20 of those.
Q: And did you, every four years, have to run for office again?
Burnett: Yes, yes. And people say, "Did you have any opposition?" I had lots of opposition, but nobody filed against me- there's a difference. I had lots of opposition but nobody filed--. And I mentioned earlier, when we were talking about the reporters. In my talks, with the National Council, I wanted to give 'em something meaningful. And judges build an image. So I decided that one thing I'd talk about--. And sometimes it's not just a 30-minute talk, it's an all-day session. I mean, you don't talk all day but you talk, they break up in groups, talk, come back, interact, back- you know, for a full day. And so I wanted to cover this because I felt a lotta judges, I felt, the ones I knew, could know how to work with the youths better. And Judge H. Winfield Smith now, he said, "Gil."- 'cuz see, once I got on the bench and the reporters come- he said, and this was- this was a classic- he said, "Never, never get in a fight." He said, "Never get in a fight- never, with anybody who buys ink by the barrel." He said, "You simply can't win." I don't know that I ever mentioned this to a reporter. If one of 'em reads this, they'll--. See, but you don't. The reporter is doing his job. Now he may lambaste you. But he's doing it in good faith. No, no- They are. I found 'em straight. I've never been betrayed by one.
Burnett: We were talking about cases awhile ago- The Wilmington Ten Case. Maybe you've heard of the--. The conditions here were chaotic then, I mean, burnings and all. But finally there were- well, there really were 11. They only called it Wilmington Ten, but there were 11 people- 11 people involved in those cases. One was a white woman. She was right in there. I don't know that she was--. She was charged. I don't know that she was with 'em at that moment, but she was with them, you know, in all this. And all the others were African Americans- uh.. males. And the thing is- and I- I'd like to get this on record. Uh.. if you wanna go into the Wilmington Ten, get Dr. Hayward Bellamy who was superintendent of--. He uh.. is supposed to be writing a book on this. We- I knew him very, very well. But, Mike Poulis, who came from Greece in 1946, owned Mike's Grocery, which was burned- that's what this was all about. His folks never owned slaves. He came in in 1946, just to have the American life. I've never seen in print anything about that. I've never seen in print the fact that two homes, next to Mike's Grocery, owned by elderly black women, burned in the course of Mike's- uh.., you know, where they were burning Mike's Grocery. But these homes burned. I've never seen that in the news.
Burnett: The way this case was broken--. I'm trying to think of the guy's name. A young black man. He was not involved with the Wilmington Ten on this occasion but he- he'd been involved with some of the city- or something like that. Allan--. Anyway, he came into court one day. Now this was all behind us. And they had not- he had not recanted his testimony. He was the one who- who was the main witness. There was a juvenile involved but- uh.. and he was a witness, but uh.. this one man- I'll call him Allan, I think that was his name- he was a primary witness and he came into Juvenile Court one day and he was not a juvenile but he was infatuated with this young black girl who was to be in Juvenile Court for running away or something. He stood in the back of the court. When he came in, he just stood there. Allan Hall was his name- Allan Hall- and his words were, "Judge, they's puttin' pressure on me to change my testimony.." in the hearing. And I was the first judge involved in- in these- the hearings. Allan.. was not intelligent enough to lie throughout his cross-examination. He couldn't have done it. (coughs) You had a very sharp- had a- all these 11 people there with their lawyers, which took forever and a day, to- to hear it. And the DA wanted me, once I had enough to find probable cause, to stop. I didn't wanna do that. The- the place was packed with people. News people were all over the place. And.. uh- uh.. the local- the news people who come in on a hurricane or whatever, use local news people. So I asked Betty Hudson- she's married now, a different name- but I asked Betty, who was a reporter for the paper, I guess, or Channel Six, 'cuz she went back and forth, or was with both of 'em at one point. I said, "Betty, I wanna meet every news person here during my coffee break at 11 o'clock. Call 'em in--. I'd like for you to bring 'em in my office." Well I knew her real well. I mean, she would come up, "Judge, it's a slow day and I need some--." Well, I tried to get a new- nose for news and I'd make notes of things- it had nothing to do with the court. You'd give it to her and you'd see something in the paper maybe the next day. So I had coffee brewed and all these reporters came into my office, during my eleven o'clock break, during the Wilmington Ten hearings. Well one or two of 'em started asking me ca- questions about the case. I said, "I- I can't talk about the case. You know that. We can talk about other stuff." So we just chatted about all kinds of stuff. I wanted to get to know 'em, 'cuz remember what Dean Wethers said- "Get to know the news media", and what Judge Smith said, "Don't get in a fight, if they buy ink by the barrel." So we had coffee, we chatted, shook hands- you know, all that stuff, went back in. And I had somebody get papers every day because I wanted to see what the world was seein' about what we were doing here. I wasn't betrayed by one, not one. Now later--.
Q: Tell me, though. You said you were the first hearing. What was the hearing about?
Burnett: It was a probable cause hearing for the felonies of burning the building.
Q: So they have to come and get a judge to say there's probable cause to charge them?
Burnett: To- no, they'd already been charged. What you need--. Well an officer needs a scintilla of evidence. He's- he needs an articulable suspicion to stop you on the highway. He doesn't need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. He needs an articulable suspicion. He needs to be able to tell you, or- or say what it is, or write it out. Then it goes in for a probable cause hearing and some magistrates'll do a probable cause hearing. But this type of thing would come to the judge. So I heard the evidence to see if there was enough evidence for there actually to be a trial. And there obviously was. There was no question.
Q: They had a witness.
Burnett: Well, yeah. Those were- there were some others too but the- he was the main witness. Now keep in mind, the place is packed- 90% of 'em black people- I mean, you know, in the courtroom. It was a good sized court room. When Allan Hall finished his testimony- and he'd been on the stand for hours. As I say, I don't think anybody could've lied through that. It had to be truthful what he said, to be able to withstand the cross-examination. He was groggy when he got down. And Chavis, who came in with his bible and his reversed collar- you know, he says he's a minister, maybe he is, I don't know. But uh.. later he headed up the NACP. And I told my wife, I said, "He will ruin 'em- you watch." Well you know what happened. He got involved with somebody, paid- bribed her not to tell about the sexual stuff and all that. He's outta there. Anyway, he was sitting in front of me, and Allan Hall got up and went right straight for him. And I am satisfied he would have killed the man if we hadn't had security all over the courtroom. The officers rushed in. I mean, he was- he was going right for him, and I know he would've- he would've killed him.
Q: Who was going for whom?
Burnett: Allan Hall, from the witness stand, was going for Ben Chavis.
Burnett: Yeah, he was going right straight for him. And I mean, and Hall- Hall had been under excruciating cross-examination, by good lawyers, for hours. Well, when the officers rushed in and he was going for Chavis and Chavis stood up and there was a lot of commotion, the people started up about they have a riot in the courtroom. You've heard of flying off the handle. I had an old gavel. I don't know who made it- it was a handmade gavel, a little stick. And I- I said, "Wham", and then plop-plop-plop-plop-plop, the head flew off the gavel. And I said, in a loud voice, "Sit down." And they backed out and sat down. Gal darn it, they just sat down. And- well you've heard of flying off the handle. They flew right off the handle. (laughs) I had a little homemade gavel.
Q: So you found probable cause?
Q: Then where does it- where did it move to then?
Burnett: Then it went to Superior Court. Then it went to uh.. the Sup- uh..- to uh.. Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, Federal Court, Congress. These people were getting uh.. Congress involved, trying to order the governor to remit all these sentences and this, that--. Well I'll tell ya another story about Chavis. When uh..- when it- all this stuff was in Congress, I mean the U.S. Congress- they were- these people were trying to get him up there. In fact, one minister was lambasting me, trying to have me uh.. removed from the bench- a black minister, uh.. there were two of 'em working together. I don't remember his name but they worked with Chavis. And they filed a petition to have me removed. Well, you know, I decided when I ran I'd never run scared. You know what I did? I called the TV station. I said, "I challenge them to a debate." I didn't care if it ruined my career. I said, "I'll challenge them to a debate on the Wilmington Ten cases, on television." Uh.. and so they put that on the air. Well they backed down then. I mean, I've wrote it--. Uh.. it- it infuriated me. And here I was tryin' to do my job and they wanted me removed from the bench.
Q: And you were just at the first level of probable cause.
Q: And do not- would you say most cases, if there's enough evidence, you move it forward into the process?
Burnett: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And uh.. so anyway it went to the Federal Court, it went to Congress. Well, I didn't want my Congressman, who was Charlie Rose, caught up in this stuff. He was from Fayetteville; he wasn't from Wilmington. I didn't know whether he knew all this- what was going on. He might be caught up in, okay, maybe they really- you know, they didn't do it, let's just forgive the whole thing, put pressure on the governor- and he'd look like a fool, uh.. down here. Well, the court reporter, a dear friend of mine, retired, she said, "Judge", she said, "I have a tape of a case you heard with Chavis where he was charged with accessory after murder." I said, "Let me hear that thing." (coughs) And what had happened, back before the Wilmington Ten incident- I mean, this stuff went on for quite awhile, burnings and rioting and all this stuff, shootings. Two- three young men, black men, out in Taylor Homes, had a gun. I don't know the facts, but one of 'em got shot and killed. Those three were the only ones involved. The one who did the shooting was walking to the police station, to tell 'em he'd shot a guy- maybe it was an accident, I don't know. On the way, this woman, who work- worked with Chavis- I don't remember her name- talked to him, uh.., you know, he told her what he'd done, this--. She said, "Don't go anywhere, don't go to the police", said, "Let's talk to Ben Chavis first." Now this is in the middle of a lot of chaos. They went to Lumberton, to a Holiday Inn, where Chavis met 'em. The kid told Chavis whatever happened. Chavis said, "Don't do anything until you hear from me." Chavis went to Raleigh. He called news conferences at the drop of a hat. I mean, he really called news conferences. He called a news conference and said a white man went to the- uh.. this is what was right on the tape. And a black man broke this case. Mr. Burnham was his name. Not a white man, a black man. It took 'em a year to break the case of what I'm tellin' ya- 'cuz people wouldn't talk. He said a black man, to all these news people- a white man went to this door where these black youths were, shot and killed one of 'em in cold blood. All hell broke loose in this community. This is the real Chavis. This is Chavis. This is how I got to know him. This is why I knew he'd ruin the NACP. So, this- see this, it took a year now to break the case.
Burnett: Chavis tells the news, a white man shot him in cold blood, but they can't solve the case. The police keep running into dead ends. They're looking for a white man who shot a youth. And finally, Officer Brown, a very good officer, been with the uh.. city for quite awhile, he broke the case and testified to this in court- which was on this recording. It brought all this back to me when I listened to it- and I may still have it, I don't know. But uh.. later, it turned out, from all they could gather- maybe it was true or not- that it was an accident. Well Chavis, by the way, was charged with accessory after murder, once the case was broken a year later, 'cuz the guy had been charged- well later, once it broke- broke and he was charged with murder, and then Chavis, accessory after. Well then when it went to trial, for whatever reason, and maybe it's the truth, maybe not, they- it was an accident. Well, you can't be an accessory after murder if it's an accident. So, anyway, I'll--.
Q: And you tried that particular case, do you remember?
Burnett: Again, that was a hearing.
Q: Oh a hearing.
Burnett: That was a preliminary hearing- Ouellette [ph?]. And that's when it came out.
Q: Now that was an exciting case. Were there any others like that that stick in your mind? That was kind of an historic one. Are there others--?
Burnett: Well I've had unusual things happen to me. I've had a guy- uh.. an outsider guy- some guy put the hex on me in court one time. This uh.. black man came up. I don't remember what he was charged with but I put him on a Bond and he went over to sit in what we called the prisoner's box. And I was sitting at the bench. And you have the tables in front of you where the lawyers and then the rail and the audience. But over here, to my left was--. Uh.. a jury could sit over there but we called it the prisoner's box because the jury didn't sit, uh.. at this time, in that court. And we'd let two or three accumulate and then the bailiff would take 'em over to the jail. Well, I had this man go over there and I told the deputy to call the next case. In fact, you'll see this in the book. Uh.. and I heard, woosh, woosh, and what went off? And this man stood up and he was throwing his fingers- wsshhh, woosh, wsshh- putting the hex on me. And I was beginning to get the willies. I mean, it made me feel odd. I mean, he kept it up and I'm wondering, what in the world am I supposed to do? There- uh.. I didn't study this in law school. There was certainly no precedent, for me. I didn't know. I had to come up with some creative solu--. Whadda you do? The guy's working me over- I mean, he keeps it up. Wsshhh, wsshh. So I called for Dr. Bell. Now Dr. Bell is not a real doctor but he looks like a doctor. He's as smart as a doctor. He's the liaison, or was, between the court and the Mental Health Center. I thought, you know, uh.. you don't send a deputy, hit him over the--. You know, I mean, whadda ya do? So Dr. Bell knows I want him in his coat when he comes- and tie. So he runs in, puttin' his coat on- 'cuz I said, "Get him quick." I mean, this guy keeps working me over. And by this time, a woman, a black woman, runs from the back of the courtroom, just as far as she can run, up to the front. "Judge ain't right. Judge ain't right." Well in court, as in other places, you have to translate what a person is saying, into what they're saying. She was saying, "Judge ain't right." What she really was saying was, "Judge, he ain't right." "Judge ain't right." "Judge, he ain't right." "Judge ain't right." He is not right. Now she didn't mean by what he was doing- she meant, up here. I mean, I could tell- that's what she meant. Turned out it's his sister. But he's puttin' the works on me. So I said, "Look, you help Dr. Bell- uh.. let's move him out." And so uh.. he's working me over as he's comin' by the bench. Wsshh. Well, I took a break. I don't know how long- I don't remember how long. But it sorta gives me the willies when I think about it. But that- that happened. And then one guy--. Uh.. every once in awhile somebody'd try to escape, but we learned- and I was usually in 317. In fact, today, this afternoon at two, John Burney is to be- uh.. a- a highway is to be named for John Burney, in Courtroom 317. And I'll- I'll- I'm gonna be there. You've interviewed John before. So uh.. anyway, I was--. I've talked too long.
Q: No, you're doing fine. We've got another 15 minutes. We might as well.
Burnett: Well the one guy was trying to escape. And he came from the jail. Now, uh.. originally, people would wear their own clothes in the court. Now they have jumpsuits- orange jumpsuits. But one guy, they picked him up on the beach at night. He was drunk and causin' some trouble in a swimsuit. So he came in the court in his swimsuit. And, you know, you- you just deal with it. But this guy had a jumpsuit on, and if they are really expected to run, they may have shackles or something. But this guy, they didn't expect him to run- big guy. Now what he didn't know was as- if you're gonna run outta the courtroom, push the left side of the door. There are two doors. And the one on the right, as you leave, is locked, bolted. It's thick, heavy wood and you don't move it. If you're determined to get out, go to the left side. But he didn't know this. So we started some stuff. He's standing there. All of a sudden, like a flash of lightening, just zoooom. He- he was a runner. I mean, he could run and he hit that right door, and just slid down. He was bleeding. I mean just- it knocked him cold. He was just flat then- just cold. I know it surprised him. (laughs) So, finally the deputies got out there. I mean, they're trying to react quickly but he's gone. And they go and they drag him back and he starts comin' to. It's about the time they get him up near the front of where the people were sitting out there and he just looked at somebody he didn't even know, and he just said, "The devil made me do it." And we had stuff like that.
Burnett: We had- uh.. I actually had more trouble with kids fighting, when I was gonna send them say to a training school, than adults. Adults would usually go. They knew they had it coming and they would usually go. Once in awhile they'd fight the deputy. But the kids, it was not unusual--. In fact, one time the sheriff sent me an old man over here as a deputy. And I called him- uh.. and he was sort of a frail man. And I said, to the clerk, "Call the Sheriff"- uh.. and quiet, I said--. Espec--. I mean, if- uh.. if I wasn't gonna send anybody, that'd be one thing. But if I knew that this kid had to go to training school, I'd say to the clerk, "Call and get some more security." Because this man couldn't have had- the kid might have hurt him. You know, a strapping 15-year-old kid uh.. could- you know, could really hurt the man. So then they'd send three or four hefty guys over there. And, sure enough, sometimes- you can sorta read the kids at times. Some of 'em, they'll go. Others you could tell, you know, they'd- like a shark if you're down and if the shark's, you know, goin' a certain way. And the same way with people. You can sort of read 'em. And I'd say, "We better get security, over here, so he doesn't- nobody gets hurt."
Q: You have two children, at least.
Burnett: Three. Three.
Q: Any attorneys in the family that you've produced?
Burnett: My son, is not an attorney but when he was in high school, he talked to Dr. Hayward Bellamy, who I've mentioned, who was principal and then superintendent. And he decided that once he'd finished high school, he should come here for two years. This is a great school. But my son wanted to go to Chapel Hill and then Law School at Wake Forest. But Dr. Milne said come here for two years- here you have professional professors. At Chapel Hill, your first two years, you're gonna have graduate students, probably. And he wanted to take a year off in between, go to law school. Well he did this. He went here two years, took a year off, went to Europe and traveled and worked and this, that and the other- went to Chapel Hill, finished, went to Wake Forest. But after a year he said, "Daddy, it's not my bag, it's just not my bag." So he uh.. is now- he was with Smith Barney, as a broker. And a friend of his who started Remote Light- it's using- you could have this same light but it's with fiber optics and if you touch it, it's cold. You can work underwater with it. Uh.. a lot of patents. They had uh..- the- the man had uh.. gotten about 30-some million dollars, part from CP&L, Con Edison, to do this stuff. And I won't go into details, but they wanted to go big time. And my son was not with him, then, I think. They got Merrill Lynch, who was gonna get 156 million. They were sending some stuff around the world. They were getting- they- uh.. did stuff for the stock exchange and- and so on. But it's- it's a cold light. You have the light here and it goes by tubes, all over. And they were hiring these expensive consultants and all. But one stockholder wanted 20% of the stock and they wouldn't give it to him. This went on and on and on. So they were gettin' more and more expense. They weren't getting' the money and they went broke. So he asked my son who- they both went to Chapel Hill- if he would quit Smith Barney, come and help him revive this company. To make a long story short, they've done it. They've just hired uh- uh.. Nathan Morton, who took Home Depot from 20 stores to over 200. And he- he does this, and then he- he'll get out. But he's now the president. And I probably shouldn't tell--. Well, you should--.
Q: No, no, don't.
Burnett: Don't tell it?
Q: Don't tell it.
Burnett: Okay. Uh.. but anyway you'll be reading about 'em later, I think- the company.
Q: And what is his name- your son's name?
Burnett: My son is Steven- Steven. John Steven Burnett. And my two daughters, uhm.. after school they went to uh.. Europe and England and around there. And my uh.. youngest daughter decided to study nursing in England. And then finally they decided to come back home. I went over there to make sure they were comin' back because, you know, they in fall in love and all. They said, "No, daddy, we just wanna work around the world." They came back, opened a European, southern-type restaurant in Raleigh and then got another one in Louisville in a beautiful restaurant. My oldest one started her family, wanted to sell it. So uh.. they sold the restaurant. My youngest daughter kept the catering business. And my oldest daughter is a professional mom and wife, and- and it pays off with the children. The children are just tops in athletics and school. I mean, really, they're tops- they're teenagers.
Q: And what are your daughters' names?
Burnett: Betsy and Sandra. Betsy Lark and Sandra Lynn. Now Sandra, is in the catering business. It's a big business in the Raleigh- the triangle area. About a year and a half ago, which would be about 2000, the year 2000, she was selected by Caterer's Magazine as runner-up for the best caterer in the United States. She has several MOs in the business- a bunch of trucks. Two facilities she works out of. One of 'em's 14,000 square feet with a big garden in- uh.. on Millbrook Road in Raleigh. So they- I feel I can die and know my children are doin' okay.
Q: And your wife through this long adventure?
Burnett: Well I've had- well, wives.
Q: Oh, wives. Oh, I'm sorry.
Q: We don't have to have all the details.
Burnett: That's--. Well, actually, uh.. I'm very, very grateful to my first wife who really is a wonderful, nice lady, and it's a reflection on me that we're not together- because she gave me the three kids. My second wife was a great lady, uh.. again, uh.. I'll say it's my problem we're not together. And I'm now divorced.
Q: What do you predict for the future?
In Law or just in general?
Q: Well, in Law, for judges and maybe for Juvenile Courts?
Burnett: The law here- the lawyers- the number of lawyers here has changed. We didn't have any lawyers when I came here. And there are lots of 'em here. And it'll- it'll just grow, because the area's growin'. I mean, there's nothing we can do to stop it from growing. We do need to sort of lead it in certain directions. Uh.. a lot of that is needed. But we are goin' to grow. Uh.. as far as juveniles, I think we need to come up with some method to cut down on pregnancies uh.. between teenagers who don't need a child, not ready for a child, can't- not even train themselves, how're they gonna train a child? And uh.. we can do it. I mean, we- we can do it. We need to come up with a way, and I have some ideas on that, I won't go into now- but how it really can be done. Because some- you can almost pick out people who if they have children, they're gonna have cred- incredible crime.
Burnett: I mean, I've read thousands of social histories. And when you see a 15-year-old boy, in court, breakin' into houses and robbin' or whatever, and his momma's sitting there, who's say- uh.. he's 15 and she's 25 or 30. How old was he- is she when she got pregnant- you know, 12, 13, 14, 16- unmarried. Uh.. and she wasn't capable of- of looking after herself. So, she can't rear a child. So I determined long ago that we need to come up with ways to get- to- to stop pregnancies. Now I'm- I'm not talkin' about abortion. It has nothin' to do with abort. Don't get pregnant. And we need to be realistic about this. I mean, it's great- it's great to teach 'em abstinence. But I'm from the hardcore realist department. Some of 'em are going to have sex. I- I'll give you an illustration. This woman, a very nice lady, and her husband- knew 'em well, they were regular in church. I mean, they were good people, rearin' their children very well. They have a son and a daughter- ideal parents. They came to me, said, "Gil, we think our daughter"- who was about 17- "says she dating a guy we don't like, we think he's bad for her. We've told her this, we've hounded her." She ran away from home once and said- then we got her back- she said, "Well stay off my back. If you want me at home, stay off my back." They said, "We think she's having sex. We don't want to discuss it with her. What should we do?" My advice was sit the girl down and say, "Look, we don't want you to have sex. But if you are, we want you to know birth control. We are going to take you to uh.. say The Health Department to get instructions"- if they didn't want to do it themselves- "and so you don't get pregnant, if you're determined to have sex." "No, we can't do that- no, no, no. That would be condoning- that would be condoning. We can't do that." Well I said, "You asked me." They didn't do it and she did get pregnant and all hell broke loose, in that family. Finally they forced a marriage, which lasted minutes- really, it- uh.. it was- it was sad- it was sad. And I see this today a lot. People say, "No, you're condoning it." Let's face facts. I mean, statistics show that every year about a million teenage girls get- get pregnant. The Robin Hood Foundation in New York has all kind of statistics. Of those, about a third are aborted- aborted, and about half end up uh.. having children- some of 'em miscarry. The statistics show that if a girl, under 21, has a boy, like this, out-of-wedlock, say, compared to a girl over that, the boy uh.. is almost three times as apt to end up in prison. I mean, these are statistics- three times as apt. They drop out of school. They- they are on Welfare. No, if we can come up with some way- and we can, and I know what it is- to get these young people educated, on birth control, the advantages of not getting pregnant- you know, going to school and making a life for yourself, and all this, uh.. then we're gonna start cutting down on crime, welfare, abortion- all these things that are such a plague for us now. In uh.. Japan, you have 1/15th the term pregnancies we have here. In Holland- I was over there sailing a couple of years ago. Some people would say they're liberal. They don't have the pregnancies we do. You know? It's a different life--. We- I didn't realize as much until a few years ago that we are in the Bible Belt right here, as well as Mississippi and some of the other places. And uh.. we have to change our thinking. We have to be more realistic in dealing with these problems, and then you'll cut down on your juv- juvenile delinquency.
Q: Last question for you. You love the Law and stayed with it. If someone comes to you, a young person, and says, "I'm interested in going to the Law", are you going to be encouraging, are you going to be discouraging?
Burnett: Encouraging. I've had any number of parents call me. And my dentist had two sons. He called me and said, "I'd like for them to come to court and uh.. sit with you a day." I've had many children do that. They just follow you around and they sit out in the audience or somewhere. (coughs) And any number of them have gone to Law School. You know, Law is a- a great profession. But, we want people who have high ethics who- you know, honest. Uh.. and you need to be sorta smart- and, I mean, you don't have to be a brain to be a lawyer, but I- I think you need to be uh.. straightforward. I believe you outta be able to rely on- rely on what a lawyer tells ya, without it being in writing. I learned this from my dad- you know, a man's word is his bond. And uhm.. you find out that with a lot of people it's not that way. But uhm.. yes, I would encourage anybody who leans toward Law to explore it thoroughly and go into it if they- if they really want to, yes...
Q: Thanks very much. Wonderful.
#### End of Tape 1, Gilbert Burnett ####