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John Pavich's recent appointment as associate judge for Will County, Ill., comes after a wealth of experience with his family's law firm – as well as a career with the CIA.

From the CIA to the Courtroom

The career path that led John Pavich ’98 to a recent appointment as an associate judge for Will County, Ill., has been far from typical. Sure, there was the requisite experience at his family’s law firm, but that more traditional track followed time as a director of intelligence operations for the CIA in which he worked on projects he still can’t discuss.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were a sentinel moment in Pavich’s life, reigniting a passion for government service that had its roots in the Russian language courses he began taking during his first year at St. Norbert College.

“I was in law school when 9/11 occurred, when every third-year law student is trying to figure out what type of law they want to end up practicing,” Pavich explains. “I started thinking back to my days at St. Norbert and my original thought of trying to get into some type of government service. I came home one day and my wife had found an ad on Monster.com for the CIA’s director of operations. One of the stranger aspects of the whole process is how we found that position.”

Pavich’s role with the CIA centered on collecting raw intelligence from foreign sources and identifying and recruiting potential assets to provide information to key policymakers, including members of Congress and the president. Although based at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Pavich did his share of traveling in the course of counterterrorism operations in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union.

“Some people have the idea my job was like James Bond, but it was not,” Pavich says. “I wasn’t running around as a paramilitary officer, but I did have some unusual duties. I certainly couldn’t talk about much of what I did.”

Pavich and his wife, Kelly (Coleman) Pavich ’98, welcomed their first son in November 2004, and within a year the couple made the decision to leave the secret world of the CIA and return to Illinois, where John had a job waiting for him with the Pavich Law Group.

“The decision was right for our family,” he says. “It’s not impossible to maintain a family life with that kind of work [in the CIA], but it is difficult.”

Pavich’s connections in Eastern Europe and his father’s experience in the region brought several interesting cases to the Pavich Law Group’s attention, including claims against perpetrators in United States human rights cases abroad. One case involved a breach of contract brought under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act against the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Pavich drafted the brief that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before prevailing at the brief level.

As the new kid on the block in the Will County judicial system, Pavich serves as something of a substitute teacher, bouncing from one courtroom to the next as the need arises.

“A lot of these areas are brand new for me,” he says. “I literally don’t know what each day will hold. It has exposed me to areas in which I had little experience before. This will be immensely valuable going forward because you have to have practical, on-the-ground experience to understand what it’s all about so you can be the best judge you can be.”

Sept. 10, 2019