A Cook County state’s attorney credits the discipline she learned as a Luvabulls dancer, in part, for her success in the courtroom.
“When I heard the court clerk say ‘All rise’ and saw 12 jurors, not 20,000 people. I thought ‘I can do this,’” says Athena A. Farmakis, 50.
She’s now a candidate for Cook County Circuit Court Judge in the 8th subcircuit, for the vacancy left open by Laura C. Liu, who died in 2016.
Farmakis is the only woman in a field of four, including Michael Forti, Cyrus Hosseini and Lindsay Huge. It’s a point worth making, says Farmakis, as she’s felt bolstered by the #metoo women’s movement.
“When I knock on doors, people want to talk about it,” she says during an interview at Artopolis cafe in Greektown.
We nibbled on tiropites and avgolemono soup while she talked about growing up in the western suburb of Berwyn, dancing at Bulls games and trying murders in Chicago courtrooms.
Farmakis was Type A before it was a common term. The high-school valedictorian ticks off all the activities she threw herself into as a youth: tennis, dance classes, gymnastics. Farmakis was the kid who took ice-skating lessons before her three-hour Greek school lessons on Saturdays. She studied for exams a week in advance just to make time for everything. She was “busy,” she acknowledges. But all that “discipline and multitasking” has helped her juggle it all as a lawyer.
Farmakis went on to study psychology at Northwestern University. That's where she was when she took an unusual side job—dancing at Chicago Bulls games as a Luvabull.
This was during the Michael Jordan years, when the world was fixated on the Bulls. Dance team members served as ambassadors of sorts for the “international brand” that was the Bulls.
“We were tested after every game about how many points Michael Jordan scored, how many rebounds or assists certain players had. It wasn’t just about danceability,” she says. “They wanted to make sure we could hold conversations.”
She’ll be dancing again March 5 during the Luvabulls reunion. (The Bulls play the Celtics that night.)
After college, Farmakis studied law at DePaul Law School and then worked in the appellate, juvenile and narcotics divisions before moving up to be a third-chair Cook County state’s attorney at 26th and California.
She handled a range of murder, violent crime, and drug cases before advancing to second and then first chair. She’s now a supervisor in the 51st and Wentworth courthouse, overseeing preliminary hearings.
Farmakis represented the family of Endia Martin, a 14-year-old killed by another teenage girl after arguing about a boy on social media.
“It’s about giving people a voice. Sometimes in homicide cases, we’re all they have at the end. They just want to see justice.”
Farmakis could have gone in to corporate law but gravitated to the public sector after taking a trial advocacy class, where she learned the nuts and bolts of cross-examination and opening and closing statements. “I was like, ‘this is cool,’” she said.
She also was drawn to the “rules” of law. “It’s black and white. The arguing is about how you interpret the laws. I like that there’s a decision at the end. I learn something from every case, win or lose.”
It’s a lot like sports, she adds. Or dancing at Bulls games. “You can’t be scared that you’re going to lose. And if you miss dance steps, you have to keep going.”