Practicing Peace

Practicing Peace

Leanne burnett is sitting on the floor, not poring over superfund case notes or reading the state-of-the-art headlines on fracking—a massive deal in her part of the country—however alternatively, gambling legos with a nine-yr-vintage boy. She’d been appointed to represent the child as parent ad litem in a case regarding a custodial discern with substance abuse issues—something she alas is aware of something approximately. She changed into looking to benefit his believe. They talked about school and dogs, after which burnett cited how she remembered her dad coming home after he’d had an excessive amount of whiskey; how he would act “kinda frightening and angry.” while he got here home, she instructed the boy, she may want to inform what form of day it'd be due to— “the smell,” the boy interjected. They have been quiet for a minute, and then he requested, “where did you hide?” serving as a mother or father ad litem is a far cry from her environmental exercise, but as a female who raised six youngsters on a farm and fostered many others, it’s a herbal. The paintings began after a domestic docket judge observed burnett’s volunteer efforts for oklahoma attorneys for kids. She referred to as her one saturday morning and requested her to behave as dad or mum ad litem for children whose mother and father have been both attorneys. “i got private perception that after folks in such conditions are angry or dissatisfied, they may direct that anger at me, but it isn’t about me,” she says. “it’s usually approximately that person’s very own worry that he or she will be able to lose some thing they have or fail to get something they want. In the home docket, that something is time with their children, so it’s very close to their hearts.” her potential to make bad circle of relatives conditions higher is now so well-known that judges will request her through name, in particular in cases related to mother and father with widespread intellectual illness or substance abuse. Chris deason, who practices family regulation at hester schem hester & deason law in edmond, recollects the day she met burnett. “the decide stuffed her down my throat,” deason says. “i instructed him, ‘she doesn’t understand whatever approximately this!’” but that affect didn’t last long. “she treats [being a guardian ad litem] like litigation—she does the paintings,” deason says. “she gets the clinical records, does the whole lot as if she’s litigating on behalf of those children. But the splendor of it's far, in the meantime, she is running with the mother and father. She’s getting them the resources they want and the help they need. It’s like she needs the entire organism to be well. She desires every body to get hold of the help that they want in order that her customers are quality helped.” her co-workers positioned it this manner: leanne is a healer. “what that means to me is that the role of the lawyer is to recognize that the patron, both an person or a corporate customer, can also have an ongoing courting beyond the lawsuit,” burnett says. “so have a larger attitude.” in a grainy photograph from 1965, the seven finalists from the omit teenage the united states competition huddle together. Amongst them is burnett, who represented tulsa in a striped sweater with her hair swept back in what might be called a modified funicello. The group looks ready to harmonize on “what the arena wishes now could be love.” it’s a laugh to her today. “i suppose [my pursuit of beauty contests] had something to do with the truth that once i was growing up, i played softball, i swam, i used to be fairly aggressive,” burnett says. “but identify ix had now not been passed, and the competitive a part of me headed into the course that became available at that point.” she did a few modeling, and soon married john burnett, whose circle of relatives ran a enterprise that made soap and cleaning products for the food industry. She accompanied her new husband to tulsa, wherein he took over the circle of relatives business. The couple lived on a farm referred to as stoney end, where collectively they raised six youngsters. Additionally they opened their door to foster kids, generally children transitioning back to living with their circle of relatives after having been located in state custody. By the time that they had their 6th biological infant, oklahoma nation law said the couple had maxed out and will no longer be foster dad and mom, which was disheartening to burnett. The family groups limped along for years, till burnett decided. “i said to myself, ‘i don’t need to be beholden to all and sundry else. I need as a way to guide my own family. What’s the quickest direction to doing that?’” she settled at the regulation. “it became filthy lucre that despatched me to regulation college,” she says. At 37, she entered law faculty at oklahoma college; on the equal time, her oldest son began his undergraduate work there and her youngest turned into still nursing. She received an award that required no beauty, simply brains: “notable scholar mother,” a identify she nevertheless cherishes. The folks who gave her the award, she says, didn’t see her reading until overdue and not getting domestic in time to put her kids to mattress. However in her 2nd yr, proper earlier than finals, her husband got here to her. “we need to talk,” he said. He didn’t want to be married to a regulation scholar, and advised her she had to select between being a student and his wife. They divorced. It was hard, however she’s philosophical approximately it nowadays. “there’s a quote i like plenty, which, to paraphrase, is going, ‘you can wake up and visit war or exercise peace. Which can be you gonna do?’ for me, i choose to exercise peace,” she says. “i’ve discovered it’s adequate for other human beings to get angry because it belongs to them, however i don’t ought to be given it into my existence.” it become that identical philosophy that helped her thru a breast cancer diagnosis, too. She turned into identified with the ailment in 1992; now, she is glad to say the most cancers is gone. In regulation faculty, burnett wasn’t taking into consideration a specific discipline. More so, “i was thinking i would be 40 after i graduated, and that i just was hoping someone could rent me,” she says. But quickly earlier than graduation, while she changed into clerking for crowe & dunlevy, a accomplice on the firm placed a stack of papers on her table and informed her, “read this new regulation and inform me what it manner.” one of the companion’s customers become a defendant in a superfund case; the superfund regulation, which gave the environmental safety organization the strength to easy up unsafe web sites, had best these days been created. The case would emerge as u. S. A. V. Hardage, and concerned a commercial enterprise in criner that became oklahoma’s principal repository for dangerous material. After inspection, the epa declared it a superfund site and filed healthy towards the proprietor and diverse events who paid to deposit their waste there. She graduated and saved working at the case. “it took a long time, and due to the fact i was a newly minted attorney with the bottom billable price, i could sit through the entire trial and speak carefully with the various parties,” burnett recalls. She found out a lot, and by the time she graduated, she turned into provided a activity at crowe & dunlevy, in which she is currently director and shareholder. In one in every of her first instances, she represented strength organisation kerr-mcgee in the hardage healthy. The case turned into precedent-putting, she says, as it’s one of the handful of instances in which a judge was able to decide the treatment for a superfund website. “due to the fact that that point, the epa has been greater careful in their approach,” burnett says. When burnett became an environmental legal professional, the field hardly ever existed in oklahoma. Publish hardage, matters modified. “everybody became one due to that case. … all the legal professionals in oklahoma who had a purchaser that became a business have been possibly involved inside the hardage case. That brought about the environmental bar, a phase that we created due to that.” now, between oil and gas, fracking and wind farms, there is lots for an environmental lawyer to do in this part of the country. She took part in hardage as a forty three-12 months-antique accomplice. There were upsides to being older than your common regulation college graduate. “it made me have friends who were twenty years younger,” burnett says. “i suppose it changed the manner i concept about myself and getting older. Additionally, i was clerking for my firm, and with my age, human beings just count on when you walk into a room which you have some revel in. Which can be top and can be terrifying.” one of her most important cases worried the company madewell & madewell. Primarily based in jones, oklahoma, madewell recycles spent batteries and shops what can’t be recycled. “she became our environmental legal professional again within the early ’80s,” says carmalieta wells, madewell & madewell’s president. “she’s been our attorney ever given that. She’s one of those human beings that you immediately connect to.” the epa become suing madewell over material being sent to a facility in alabama. Approximately 100 comparable events who extensively utilized the alabama web page had been protected in the fit, burnett remembers, but simplest 3 refused to settle with the epa, and madewell changed into in that group. Instead they went to courtroom, which dominated of their choose. “what makes me happy with this is, i don’t recognise many human beings who've definitely attempted a superfund case,” burnett notes. “and secondly, my relationship with madewell has constantly been unique. I feel like i've absolutely grown with that agency.” the plaintiffs appealed the decision, and the case went to the 11th circuit. Burnett become startled on the attraction, because not one choose asked a unmarried query. The same arguments have been supplied, and the court affirmed the lower ruling. Success cemented a bond among wells and burnett. When a local citizen complained approximately one in all madewell’s processing facilities to an oklahoma television station, wells says, “we went to leanne before we talked to the reporter and asked, ‘what do we do?’ she of path helped us via that. I've informed her, ‘so long as i’m at madewell, you simply can’t go away.’ i wouldn’t need to place one foot ahead with out her.” even as her environmental regulation practice stays consistent, in recent years burnett has persisted to take on a good buy of seasoned bono paintings as a dad or mum ad litem. “i trust that lawyers had been initially supposed to be healers of society’s disagreements—the ability to be heard in courtroom, in preference to on a field with guns,” she says. “i as a attorney want to undergo this in mind as i conduct my criminal exercise, irrespective of what region of law i cognizance on.” deason recalls a time while burnett was assigned to work on a parent ad litem count that were given specially heated. “she’s small in stature, however she’s a force of nature. She comes in and everything may be truly anxious and she may be talking about the most horrific matters, and yet it’s in this non violent tone of voice. Humans can hear her and what she has to mention. She’s a instructor—a surely proficient litigator, but also a teacher.” the trainer has been taught a few things, too. “when i first began, my belief of how you must rise up in court docket became formed by tv shows,” burnett says. “i thought you needed to arise and rage.” she starts a story about a time she changed into getting ready to move-examine a person accused of sexually molesting his kids. “he appeared like someone you would see in a [mug shot] photograph—he had a scar across his face that he tried to cowl up with a beard, but he couldn’t. He simply did not look savory and that’s now not his fault. So, my thought, of path, was to stroll up to him and treat him poorly.” the juvenile justice court docket that became hearing the case is close to the oklahoma branch of human services, and earlier than she started out her cross-examination, burnett turned into on a spoil standing out of doors the courtroom. A few social people have been speakme, and she overheard one announcing to a less-skilled coworker, “you need to deal with each customer with appreciate irrespective of the way you experience approximately them. It can be the best appreciate that individual receives.” she notion approximately that every one the manner back to the courtroom. “and that’s what i did with that gentleman,” she says. “i didn’t rage or deal with him as an offender. I just asked him my questions and did not get indignant.” “the competition—it’s now not essential to me anymore. It’s extra like—relationships are important. [that cross-examination] modified my view of what is vital. Each attorney has to be whoever she or he is, and juries receive that. They don’t assume each person to be like someone on tv.” burnett herself is living proof. She apologizes for now not being greater like someone you’d see on the large display. “i’m sorry, however i did no longer have a rocky moment this morning,” she says. “i worry i disappoint because i don’t play ‘eye of the tiger’ as i race to the court docket.” no raw-egg breakfast, both. On maximum mornings, whether or not she’s heading to court docket or the office, her ordinary consists of a 3-mile stroll and examination of the pre-dawn moon, observed by using her norfolk terrier, rosie. While she receives home from the day, there’s 20 mins of yoga, and analyzing to get her head in the proper area: thomas merton, thich nhat hanh, pema chodron, poems with the aid of folks like mary oliver, billy collins, alice walker. She writes a letter to god. Then she figures she’s ready for what’s next.