Linda Fairstein (center) at "Women for Vance" breakfast fundraiser. Fairstein is accused of getting favorable coverage for Cy Vance when he ran for District Attorney in New York. At one time, Fairstein sat on dozens of boards and charitable initiatives before her connection to the Central Park 5 case forced her to resign. Photo credit: Creative Commons

A tale of two prosecutorial ethics: How a highly regarded NYC district attorney used her influence to help the most influential

Emails show Harvey Weinstein, other NYC elite favored by ‘Central Park 5’ prosecutor Linda Fairstein in their sex crimes cases.

More stains smear the already faltering legacy of once celebrated NYC prosecutor, Linda Fairstein. Recently, Huffington Post uncovered a string of emails from Fairstein and former fellow District Attorney, Martha Bashford. The correspondences show her interceding cases in the DA’s sex crimes unit years after she left as the lead in 2002.

Once upon a time, Fairstein enjoyed a long career as a prosecutor, best-selling author, Ivy League law lecturer, and Hollywood notable. Today, she struggles with ever-mounting evidence tying her to questionable professional practices. Fairstein felt the first hard ding to her reputation after the Netflix movie series, “When They See Us,” depicted her as a biased prosecutor behind the sentencing of five Black and Latino youth in the 1989 rape and beating of a white, adult female jogging in Central Park.

| Read: Oh Boya, if it’s Goya, it’s not good

The teens, who ranged from the ages of 14 to 16, were from poor and working class NYC families. In a high-profile, racialized case that largely defined Fairstein’s career, the boys were found guilty and ended up serving six to 13 years each. 

Years after, Matias Reyes, who was not linked to the boys, but already serving a sentence for the rape and murder of a pregnant 24-year-old woman, came forward. Further DNA testing connected Reyes to the evidence in the case.

Originally known as the “Central Park 5,” the teens who are now middle-aged men now go by the “Exonerated 5.” In 2019, they were awarded a $41 million settlement.

For Fairstein, her fairytale career ended. The movie sent her a maelstrom of fury. The NYC darling of law enforcement lost her book deal within weeks of the Netflix release. She stepped down from the boards of the nonprofit Safe Horizon and Vassar College. Then students at Columbia Law School called for her termination. Ultimately, Fairstein resigned from her position, but responded with a lawsuit against “When They See Us” director Ava DuVernay and Netflix.

Legacy

Fairstein’s career-defining “Central Park 5” case reveals a drastic difference in how she sought “justice” in sex crimes against white, wealthy men. Convicted Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein was one of the City’s bluebloods who was assisted by Fairstein. According to the HuffPost, emails show Fairstein connecting Weinstein’s lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz to Martha Bashford, who succeeded Fairstein in the DA’s office. The introduction was made when sexual assault charges were filed against Weinstein in 2015 for groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. 

After the introduction, charges against Weinstein were dropped by the DA’s office. It would take years for more charges to be brought against Weinstein, whom Fairstein met years prior at the exclusive Massachusetts enclave, Martha’s Vineyard.

Later on, another Weinstein case involving sex crimes would unveil dozens of women who came forward to testify about their experiences of abuse and assault. Eventually, Weinstein was found guilty of rape and sexual assault. He is now serving a 23-year sentence.

Weinstein is not the only one in the high society crowd who sought out Fairstein’s influence. Another case Fairstein involved herself is with that of Adam Levinson whom she identified in emails to Bashford as the godson of “one of my [Martha’s] vineyard best friends.”

 A highly regarded physician at Mt. Sinai hospital at the time, Levinson was accused of using a small pen camera to look up women’s skirts on the subway. Added, the plastic surgeon was accused of placing spy cameras in his office to watch unsuspecting visitors. In Fairstein’s emails to Bashford, she agreed to accompany Levinson’s attorney in a meeting with Bashford to discuss the 10 felonies the doctor had been charged with. Moreover, Fairstein vouched for Levinson’s character at his sentencing. 

| Read: Calls for reopening cases belonging to Central Park Five prosecutor

In an interview with HuffPost, Fairstein said she wanted to ensure that Levinson would “get a fair resolution” and “present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.”

In the end, Levinson pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony, unlawful surveillance. Yet, he did not serve any time, nor did he have to register as a sex offender.

Even District Attorney of New York County, Cyrus Vance Jr. is also cited as falling into favor with Fairstein whose cases became a template for Hollywood’s crime show, “Law and Order: SVU,” once Weinstein recruited her. 

During his tenure, Vance’s leadership fell into scrutiny for the way he handled high-profile sex crime cases like that of Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted on sex trafficking charges in 2019. Epstein died by suicide in jail the same year.

In the accounts laid out by HuffPost, Fairstein offered to beef up good press coverage for Vance when he ran for office.

But for Fairstein, she says her role was not meaningful. Nonetheless, the drastic difference between the way Fairstein treated the adolescent “Exonerated 5” and adult elite white males stirs up again, questions of her biases and ethics. In 2019, Public Advocate Jumaane William demanded that the sex crimes cases of Fairstein and her colleague, Elizabeth Lederer, be re-audited by DA Vance and his office. However, Vance later put out an open letter stating that he would not review the thousands of cases prosecuted by Fairstein.

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