Photo: Vera Farmiga (left) as Elizabeth Lederer in Netflix’s “When They See Us” / Netflix
The Black Law Students Association at Columbia University called for the dismissal of lecturer Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, because “lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct.”
A letter to the law school community was posted on Tuesday, and Lederer resigned on Wednesday. But the quest to have the Manhattan district attorney removed from her part-time teaching role actually began several years ago.
The law students wrote that a petition in 2013 garnering thousands of signatures was ignored.
“Instead of taking decisive action to address the issue, Columbia Law School simply removed the Central Park jogger case from Lederer’s online bio,” they wrote.
New statement released from the @ColumbiaLaw Black Law Students Association
Students call for #CentralPark5 prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer to be fired from her Lecturer in Law position
Also call on the law school to center anti-racism in its curriculum and pedagogy pic.twitter.com/U8By81KWBB
— Barred and Boujee (@AudreLawdAMercy) June 11, 2019
Vera Farmiga plays the prosecutor in the widely-watched Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us,” directed by Ava DuVernay. Based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case, it explores the lives of the five Black and Latino suspects who were wrongly prosecuted on charges related to her assault. Their convictions were overturned after the assailant, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, was identified in 2002.
The miniseries highlights “Columbia’s inaction on this subject,” the law students wrote, and “shows a disconnect between the values Columbia purports and the actions the law school takes.”
“Columbia Law School should fire Elizabeth Lederer, but that is just a start.”
Lederer wasn’t fired but decided to step down.
She told law school Dean Gillian Lester on Wednesday that “she enjoyed her years at Columbia but has decided not to renew her teaching application due to the publicity generated by Netflix’s portrayal of the case,” according to CNN.
Lester said in a statement, “The miniseries 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.”
Lederer isn’t the only prosecutor involved in the Central Park Five case that’s facing backlash due to the miniseries. Linda Fairstein has been dropped by her publisher, Dutton.
Fairstein was the top Manhattan sexual crimes prosecutor in the case. She observed the boys’ interrogation that was conducted by another prosecutor and police. Fairstein didn’t personally try the case, but she was a key character in the miniseries.