FEATURE STORY July/Aug. 2006
Supreme in Court
Hailed as “Prosecutor of the Year,” Jane Radostits keeps her eye on the victims of a crime
Jane the dinosaur flashes a toothy grin across the museum advertisement taped to Jane Radostits’s ’82 LAS office door. “Jane,” the caption reads, “was a mean, lean killing machine and she is ready for her close up.”
Jane Radostits is not like Jane the dinosaur. But she does like a good laugh. “I think a good sense of humor gets you through the difficult times,” Radostits says. As deputy chief of special prosecutions for the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office, Radostits knows a thing or two about difficult times. She once investigated a crime scene in which the victim’s three-day-old body was found strapped in a car’s passenger seat. She’s heard a murder suspect confess details of how he strangled his mother with a shoe string. She’s had to examine photos of a couple hog-tied and stabbed to death.
Humor is not the only quality that has helped Radostits, who was recently named “Prosecutor of the Year” by the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association, cope with situations that would make most people shudder. This mother of two is a fearless attorney, one who knew as early as elementary school that she was destined to work in criminal justice. By age 17, while interning for the Better Government Association of Chicago, Radostits was tackling undercover investigations. She pretended to be a patient at an abortion clinic where doctors were suspected of performing phony abortions (patients were told they were pregnant when they were not), and later posed as a staff member at a nursing home to investigate abuse of the elderly. In recent years, Radostits has confidently taken on—and won—some of the most high-profile criminal cases in the Chicago metropolitan area, including the case against Marilyn Lemak, who murdered her children in Naperville in 1999, and Billy Lee Warren, who killed a Downers Grove couple in 1978.
To be a great lawyer, you need to be a well-prepared lawyer, advises Radostits. “There are nuances that you catch when you read a police report or look at a photo for the fourth or fifth time,” she says. “It just becomes more valuable.”
Raised by a single mother, Radostits realized at a young age that “you need to get an education and depend on yourself to get to where you’re going in life,” she says. That mindset stayed with her at UIC, where she double-majored in criminal justice and political science while working odd jobs and commuting from Orland Park. After graduating from John Marshall Law School in 1985, Radostits thrived as an assistant state’s attorney for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and was rapidly promoted through the ranks of its Criminal Bureau. “Then my boss told me, ‘Little birdie, it’s time for you to fly,’” she says, which encouraged her to move on to the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.
In the courtroom, Radostits’s recipe for success is simple: work hard. “I don’t think it’s the smartest or the best lawyer who wins the case,” she says. “I think it’s the person who’s most prepared.” Though Radostits doesn’t say so, her strength as a prosecutor also has to do with her dedication to the victims in a case. “A lot of people think that prosecutors’ focus is to put the bad guys away—but it really isn’t,” she says. “My focus is on the victims, whether dead or alive. That’s who we, as state’s attorneys, are in the courtroom for.”