Central Park 5 Prosecutor Resigns at Columbia Law School Over Netflix Series Backlash

Elizabeth Lederer, played by Vera Farmiga in Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” still works for the district attorney’s office in Manhattan

Elizabeth Lederer, the prosecutor during the Central Park 5 rape case, has resigned as a part-time lecturer at Columbia Law School, citing the backlash she has received from the Netflix series “When They See Us.”

Lederer, who is portrayed by Vera Farmiga in the Ava DuVernay biographical drama, told the law school on Wednesday she would not seek reappointment, according to a note from Dean Gillian Lester sent to students and obtained by TheWrap.

“I’ve enjoyed my years teaching at CLS, and the opportunity it has given me to interact with the many fine students who elected to take my classes,” Lederer said, according to a statement a school spokeswoman provided. “However, given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application.”

In 1990, Lederer was the assistant district attorney and led the prosecution on the Central Park jogger rape case, and she still works at the district attorney’s office in Manhattan. The Manhattan DA’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

On Tuesday, the Columbia Black Law Students Association released a statement calling for Lederer to be fired. Dean Lester addressed the Black Law Students Association and the backlash to the Netflix series in her letter to students.

“The mini-series has reignited a painful–and vital–national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice. I am deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that furthers this important and ongoing dialogue, one that draws upon the lived experiences of all members of our community and actively confronts the most difficult issues of our time,” Lester wrote. “Last year, I convened a special committee on diversity and inclusion, which includes faculty, students, and administrators. A centerpiece of the committee’s charge is to examine ways to advance and support inclusive teaching and learning experiences. As the committee progresses in its essential work, I look forward to continued participation and engagement. I value the recent input from the Black Law Students Association and others as we work together to achieve these shared goals.”

Former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who is portrayed in the series by Felicity Huffman, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the series is “so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.” Fairstein was dropped by her book publisher, Dutton.

Netflix has said that “When They See Us” is the most-watched series on the streaming service since its debut on May 31. DuVernay’s show depicts the events leading to the arrest and wrongful convictions of Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana for the rape of a woman in central park. Wise, McCray, Salaam, Richardson and Santana were exonerated in 2001 when Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist whose DNA was found at the scene of the crime, confessed to committing the rape alone. Their convictions were vacated in 2002.

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