Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor whose office oversaw the Central Park jogger case, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday claiming that she was defamed by the Netflix series about the case, titled “When They See Us.”
Fairstein sued Netflix, as well as director Ava DuVernay and co-writer Attica Locke, claiming that she was wrongfully portrayed as the racist mastermind behind the wrongful prosecution of five black and brown men. The men were later exonerated.
The four-part drama series was released on Netflix in May 2019.
“In the film series, which Defendants have marketed and promoted as a true story, Defendants depict Ms. Fairstein — using her true name — as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost,” the suit alleges.
Fairstein, who was portrayed by Felicity Huffman, ran the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan D.A.’s office at the time of the case, in 1989. The suit alleges that the script invented fictional dialogue in order to mischaracterize her as racist.
“Throughout the film series, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed as making statements that she never said, taking actions that she did not take — many of them racist and unethical, if not unlawful — in places that she never was on the days and times depicted,” the suit states. “On a number of occasions, Ms. Fairstein is portrayed using inflammatory language, referring to young men of color as ‘thugs,’ ‘animals’ and ‘bastards,’ that she never used.”
Netflix said it would “vigorously defend” the suit.
“Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit,” Netflix said in a statement. “We intend to vigorously defend ‘When They See Us’ and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series.”
Andrew Miltenberg, Fairstein’s attorney, said in a statement that his client was depicted in a false and defamatory way in almost every scene in which she appears, across three episodes.
“Most glaringly, the film series falsely portrays Ms. Fairstein as in charge of the investigation and prosecution of the case against The Five, including the development of the prosecution’s theory of the case. In truth, and as detailed in the lawsuit, Ms. Fairstein was responsible for neither aspect of the case,” Miltenberg said. “Ms. Fairstein’s legal action is not intended to re-litigate the guilt or innocence of The Five in the attacks on Ms. Meili or the other victims assaulted in Central Park that night.”
Netflix was also sued last fall by John E. Reid and Associates, a police interrogation firm that alleges its “Reid Technique” for interrogating suspects was defamed in the series. Netflix has argued that the suit was intended to chill free speech on a controversial police tactic.