Judge Janet Burnside '77: Jurist, Scholar, and Judicial Educator
|Judge Janet Burnside '77 with Ken Bravo '67 and Niki Schwartz '64 at a Moritz Alumni event
Judge Janet Burnside '77 earned a B.S. in math education from The Ohio State University. Enticed by the innovative, fast-paced environment offered by a job in the nation's budding information technology sector, she joined Bell Laboratories, working in New Jersey and Ohio. Next stop was a master's degree in computer science at Ohio State.
It wasn't until Judge Burnside became actively involved with the Women's Movement in the early 1970s that the thought of a legal career crossed her mind.
"For the first time in my life I was meeting and working alongside lawyers at protest rallies and lobbying speeches, fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment," Judge Burnside says.
"I was attracted to a law career by the opportunity to work for social change and equal justice." she says. Judge Burnside headed back to Ohio State to earn a J.D. In retrospect, she realizes her math and computer science background, with rigorous exercises in logic and analytical thinking, was an ideal foundation for legal education.
While Judge Burnside's 20 years of experience on the bench in the Cleveland area have been extremely rewarding, the daily job of meting out justice is intense, with constant pressure to move cases and get dockets done. Plus, there is no shortage of criticism from unsuccessful attorneys and litigants, as well as the media. What keeps her energized is knowing that she has a positive impact on society, through interventions with individuals who pass through her courtroom daily.
Judge Burnside recounts a case involving a belligerent, out of control woman in her 50s, who had lost her kids, been divorced by her husband, and was living on the streets. Through the court's intervention, the woman was diagnosed and treated for adult-onset schizophrenia. With proper treatment and medication, the woman was able to get a job and apartment, and get her life back.
Unfortunately, the positive impact of the judiciary is often overlooked and people are too quick to blame judges when they disagree with their rulings, Judge Burnside says. "It has now become fashionable to lay the blame on the judges' doorstep." She is particularly rankled by recent challenges to judicial independence by politicians, the media, and others.
Education has been essential to Judge Burnside's success, and she particularly appreciates the excellent legal writing and research program she found at Ohio State. She stresses the importance of these skills to a successful legal career, and she encourages students to participate in law reviews to cultivate skills that will serve them well throughout their careers.
The teacher training Judge Burnside received as an OSU undergraduate has not been wasted. Instead of teaching high school math classes, she is a frequent lecturer at attorney, magistrate, and judicial education programs. She co-authored a text on Ohio evidence law, Ohio Rules of Evidence Trial Manual published by Lexis in 1999, and enjoys presenting on evidence topics, administrative appeals, procedure in capital cases, and other topics. In 2004, she joined the faculty of the National Judicial College, teaching two courses on evidence for judges drawn from across the nation.
"There is no substitute for a solid legal education," she says. Judge Burnside's career as a jurist is the living proof.