Judge Emmet G. Sullivan was born in Washington, DC and attended public schools in the District of Columbia until his graduation from McKinley High School in 1964. In 1968, he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from Howard University and, in 1971, a Juris Doctor Degree from the Howard University School of Law. Upon graduation from law school, Judge Sullivan was the recipient of a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship and was assigned to the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in Washington, DC, where he worked for one year. The following year, he served as a law clerk to Superior Court Judge James A. Washington Jr., a former professor and Acting Dean of Howard University School of Law.
In 1973, Judge Sullivan joined the law firm of Houston & Gardner. He subsequently became a partner and was actively engaged in the general practice of law with that firm until August 1980, when his partner, William C. Gardner, was appointed as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Thereafter, Judge Sullivan was a partner in the successor firm of Houston, Sullivan & Gardner.
While in private practice, Judge Sullivan was a member of a number of bar associations, court advisory, and rules committees. He was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the United States Court of Military Appeals, the United States Tax Court, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. He was a perennial voting delegate to the Circuit Judicial Conference and the District of Columbia Judicial Conference. He served on the Board of Directors of the District of Columbia Law Students in Court Program; the District of Columbia Judicial Conference Voluntary Arbitration Committee; the Nominating Committee of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia; and the US District Court Committee on Grievances. Judge Sullivan has also taught as an adjunct professor at the Howard University School of Law and has served as a member of the visiting faculty at Harvard Law School's Trial Advocacy Workshop. He is a member of the National Bar Association, the Washington Bar Association, the District of Columbia Bar and The Bar Association of the District of Columbia.
Upon his appointment by President Ronald Reagan to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on October 3, 1984, Judge Sullivan became the ninth lawyer from the Houston firm to become a judge. The eight judges who preceded him were: Annice Wagner, former Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals; William B. Bryant, former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia; Theodore R. Newman Jr., former Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals; the late William H. Hastie, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; the late Juanita Kidd Stout, former Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; the late Joseph C. Waddy, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia; the late William C. Gardner, Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; and the late Margaret Haywood, Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Following Judge Sullivan’s appointment to the Superior Court, Wendell P. Gardner Jr., was appointed to that Court as an Associate Judge. In 1992, the Houston firm celebrated its 100th anniversary and presently maintains offices in Washington, DC.
As an Associate Judge of the Superior Court, Judge Sullivan was one of only seven judges in the twenty-four year history of that court to have served full-time in every division. He served as the Deputy Presiding Judge and Presiding Judge of the Probate and Tax Divisions, as well as chairperson of the Rules Committee for those divisions. He was also a member of the Court Rules Committee and the Jury Plan Committee that drafted the current Jury Plan/System for Superior Court. Judge Sullivan is featured as the Judge in two juror orientation movies, one of which is shown daily to all prospective jurors in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; the second movie, produced by the Council for Court Excellence, is used as a learning tool in high schools across the country in an effort to educate students about their future responsibility as jurors. Judge Sullivan is also featured as the Judge in a training film for the Probation and Pretrial Services Divisions of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
On November 25, 1991, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President George Bush to serve as an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. While an Associate Judge of that court, and in addition to his full-time case management responsibilities, Judge Sullivan was Chairperson for the Nineteenth Annual Judicial Conference of the District of Columbia which was held in June 1994. The theme for the conference was “Rejuvenating Juvenile Justice - Responses to the Problems of Juvenile Violence in the District of Columbia.” On September 28, 1994, Judge Sullivan was appointed by Chief Judge Wagner to chair the “Task Force on Families and Violence for the District of Columbia Courts.”
On June 16, 1994, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President William Clinton to serve as United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. Upon his appointment as a United States District Judge, Judge Sullivan became the first person in the District of Columbia to have been appointed by three United States Presidents to three judicial positions.
Judge Sullivan is a former member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Council for Court Excellence and is a founding and current Director of the Frederick Abramson Memorial Foundation. The Abramson Foundation awards annual scholarships to District of Columbia high school graduates and fellowships to lawyers committed to working in the public interest. Judge Sullivan has previously served as a Commissioner on the District of Columbia Judicial Disabilities and Tenure Commission and currently serves as Chair of the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission. The Nomination Commission recommends candidates to the President of the United States for judicial appointment to the District of Columbia Superior Court and Court of Appeals and also appoints the Chief Judges for both courts. Judge Sullivan previously served on the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and chaired that committee’s Legislative Subcommittee. In that capacity, he testified before Committees of the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the Judicial Conference. Judge Sullivan has also served on the Dean Search Committee for the Howard University School of Law. His service on that committee culminated with the appointment of Kurt Schmoke, by President H. Patrick Swygert, to serve as the current Dean of the School of Law.
Judge Sullivan is the recipient of many honors, including the Ollie May Cooper Award awarded by the Washington Bar Association, the Thurgood Marshall Award of Excellence awarded by the Howard University Alumni Association, and the Howard University Distinguished Alumni Award awarded by the President and Board of Trustees of Howard University. He has also been recognized for his achievements by the District of Columbia Public School System, the Judicial Administration Division of the American Bar Association, and the District of Columbia Judicial Disabilities and Tenure Commission.