Linda Fairstein, Disgraced Prosecutor, Was An Inspiration For ‘Law & Order: SVU’

Mariska Hargitay, Linda Fairstein and Maile Zambuto
Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Linda Fairstein was a longtime sex crimes prosecutor in New York City who supervised several high-profile prosecutions, including that of the Central Park Jogger case, in which a woman was raped late one night in Central Park in 1989. Fairstein prosecuted five young men for the crime, and these men were convicted. However, DNA evidence would exonerate the same men many years later.

Fairstein’s role in the case is dramatized in the new Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay. The depiction of Fairstein’s actions has led to consequences for her, and she has been dropped from the boards of multiple charities. She had moved on to a prolific career as a crime novelist, but was also dropped by her publisher, Dutton, per The Inquisitr.

A piece published this week by Shadow and Act demonstrated just how influential Fairstein was, as it was revealed that she was a key inspiration for the long-running TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Per Shadow and Act, Fairstein wrote — in an op-ed last year — that when SVU was being developed, creator Dick Wolf called her and asked her to spend time with two of the actresses on the show, Mariska Hargitay and Stephanie March. The former prosecutor went on to write that she remains friends with both actresses to this day. March left SVU years ago, but Hargitay remains part of the cast.

In 2016, Hargitay sent a tweet congratulating Fairstein on her latest book, describing her as “the original real-life SVU prosecutor.” While Wolf had envisioned the idea for a series about sex crimes prosecutions in New York City a few years earlier, Fairstein had been the main prosecutor in that division for many years by that point.

SVU, a spin-off of the original Law & Order TV series, made its debut in 1999. The show will begin its 20th season in the fall, after news of a renewal earlier this year.

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The 72-year-old Fairstein maintains to this day that she prosecuted the case fairly, and that, per The Daily Beast, the DuVernay miniseries is “a basket of lies.”

In a 2018 New York Law Journal article, Fairstein had written that the prosecution of the five was defensible at the time.

The Netflix movie also depicts how President Trump, who at the time was a famous New York real estate tycoon, had taken out a full-page ad in each of New York’s daily newspapers. The ad called for the death penalty for the five defendants, all of whom have since been exonerated.