Naperville city prosecutor stepping to bench as DuPage judge

With a drive to improve the way things are done and a proven intelligence of the law, Naperville's city prosecutor and deputy city attorney is rising to the bench as a DuPage County circuit court judge.

Kavita Athanikar set her sights on a judgeship and thought it would take two or three years before she attained the goal. But when she applied early this year to be an associate judge in the 18th Circuit, the process instead took only weeks.

Her resume proves she has the legal ability, 18th Circuit Judge Ron Sutter said, as she has experience as an assistant state's attorney in Will County under James Glasgow, in private practice and with the city. Her character proves she has the judicial temperament.

"She's a good listener. You can tell she processes information. She's going to be a good decision-maker." Sutter said. "She will temper justice with mercy."

Athanikar stepped down from her position with the city Wednesday as she prepares to become a traffic court judge. She was appointed Feb. 16 to fill a vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jeffrey S. MacKay to circuit judge.

Several Naperville police officials, including Chief Robert Marshall, the department's accreditation manager, a detective and two officers in charge of training, said her knowledge of police work and public safety law makes her well-suited for the task.

Athanikar helped the department ensure its policies were strong to seek reaccreditation and served as a resource almost every day for officer training and legal advice, Marshall said.

"We know we're getting accurate and timely and solid legal advice from Kavita," he said.

Athanikar, a lifelong resident of Naperville who graduated from Benedictine University in Lisle and Chicago-Kent College of Law, joined the city's legal department part-time in 2013 and became full-time in 2015.

She proved to her bosses and colleagues to be resourceful, intelligent, inventive and a quick thinker, those who worked with her said Wednesday during a send-off filled with judicial jokes and parting gifts in the city council chambers.

"Everything that you've ever worked on, you've left better than you found it," Naperville City Attorney Mike DiSanto told her.

During her time with the city, Athanikar provided legal advice to the liquor commission as it rewrote the city's liquor code and welcomed a variety of unusual businesses as liquor license holders.

"Kavita has really been our leader," liquor commission member Joe Vozar said. "She knows what options we have. She lays it out in truly understandable language so we can have a debate."

Athanikar said she is "excited and humbled" to become a judge like Sutter and the others on the bench in DuPage, with whom she has worked while prosecuting cases for the city.

"I have always functioned from a place of working hard and letting your work speak for itself," she said.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said he'll be part of the interview team tasked with finding Athanikar's replacement, as City Manager Doug Krieger officially concluded her going-away celebration with one last courthouse pun: "Your session here is adjourned."

  Kavita Athanikar, Naperville city prosecutor and deputy city attorney, receives a street sign in her honor Wednesday as city officials recognize her for being named an associate judge in DuPage County's 18th Circuit. Mark Black/
  Kavita Athanikar, Naperville city prosecutor and deputy city attorney, talks with Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico before he and other city officials honored her appointment as an associate judge in DuPage County with a send-off ceremony at city hall. Mark Black/
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