National Guardsman makes a difference as Chicago prosecutor
As both a prosecutor in the city of Chicago and a Judge Advocate General in the military, Shariq Kathawala ’08 is using education from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law to serve a larger community. Balancing the two careers can difficult at times, but Kathawala has always felt the need to give back.
“I have two legal jobs, and both of them are very satisfying in different ways,” he said.
His full-time job is as a prosecutor for the Cook County State’s Attorney, which serves the city of Chicago and is the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the nation behind Los Angeles County.
He was recently promoted to work in the delinquency division, where he prosecutes minors accused of a wide variety of crimes. He’s also worked in the criminal misdemeanors and child protection divisions.
“You see some bad things,” he said. “But I think most prosecutors are professionals, and they learn to compartmentalize themselves while still being empathetic and good listeners. I think the trick is to have that balance.”
More days than not, he’s in the courtroom arguing or preparing cases. The job is short on monotonous paperwork, he said, and instead gives him a lot of real responsibility in cases that affect people’s lives.
“These are real live people you are dealing with, and you are making very important decisions,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in an office all day long, doing legal research and writing; so I chose the best alternative to that.”
His decision to go into prosecution stems from his experience at Moritz. He excelled in
Trial Advocacy and decided he would like his career to center around being in the courtroom. During his second year, he started working for the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and kept the job until he graduated.
But Kathawala almost never went to Moritz.
He was enrolled for his first semester at a different law school in 2003 when he was mobilized by the National Guard to serve in Germany.
He had joined the National Guard just after Sept. 11, 2001 after going through the ROTC program at the University of Illinois. When he was mobilized two years later, he withdrew from law school to serve, primarily working as a law enforcement officer.
“I learned a lot about leadership,” he said. “It was my first real continuous job after college. There were some challenges, but it was very nice in terms that I got to learn all that in a peacetime environment. A lot of people learned all that stuff while they were getting shot at.”
For Kathawala, the experience proved invaluable.
“I learned a lot of lessons there I would apply later on when it came to dealing with people or leading people,” he said.
Toward the end of his 13 months in Germany, he decided to apply to Moritz, citing its location and high academic standards as factors that piqued his interest. Kathawala still serves in the National Guard, which requires volunteering one weekend a month and another two-week period each year.
In addition to his work as a prosecutor, he works as a JAG, a position he has held since 2009. The job entails a variety of responsibilities, including giving legal advice to commanders and soldiers, assisting with wills before deployment, and making sure soldiers receive their due process. He also has been involved with cases involving sexual misconduct within the military.
“You might spend a lot of uncompensated hours preparing, but I’m fine doing it because it is important work,” he said.
Kathawala lives in Chicago’s South Side. In his free time, he holds out hope the Cubs will one day find success and roots for the Buckeyes – as long as they aren’t playing Illinois.
“It was my goal for a long time to move to Chicago and be a prosecutor,” he said. “I felt like I achieved my dream.