‘Central Park Five’ Prosecutor Settles Netflix Defamation Lawsuit

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Just days before Linda Fairstein’s defamation lawsuit against Netflix was set to go to trial in Manhattan federal court, the prosecutor of the now-exonerated Central Park Five ended her years-long legal battle over the docudrama When They See Us with a no-money settlement.

In her September 2020 lawsuit, Fairstein claimed the four-part series about five teens convicted of raping and beating a white jogger contained defamatory scenes that portrayed her “as a racist, unethical villain who is determined to jail innocent children of color at any cost.”

A joint statement from Fairstein, Netflix, director Ava DuVernay, and writer Attica Locke said Netflix will donate $1 million to the Innocence Project as part of the settlement.

“Ms. Fairstein will not receive any money as part of this settlement,” it said.

A filing in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday states that the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Fairstein cannot bring these claims against Netflix, DuVernay, and Locke again.

Netflix Asks Judge to Make Jurors Watch ‘When They See Us’ Before Defamation Trial

In a statement, DuVernay said: “Days before my legal team and I were scheduled to refute Linda Fairstein’s defamation lawsuit in front of a New York City jury, she had her husband call to pull the plug. After years of legal wrangling and millions of dollars spent, she walked away with no payment to her or her lawyers of any kind, rather than face cross examination before a New York jury as to her conduct and character.”

She added that throughout the legal fight, Fairstein “painted herself as the victim, as someone who has been wronged by our storytelling.” But, she said, the series “did not get Linda Fairstein cancelled.”

“Linda Fairstein’s own actions and words are responsible for everything that she is experiencing. In the days leading up to her defamation trial, Linda Fairstein decided that she was not willing to face a jury of her peers. It’s a phenomenon that often happens with bullies. When you stand up to them, unafraid, they often take their ball and go home,” she said.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Fairstein said the case was “not about ‘winning’ or about any financial restitution, but about my reputation and that of my colleagues. It was about setting the historical record straight that the villainous caricature invented by the defendants and portrayed on screen was not me.”

The series, in which Fairstein was portrayed by Felicity Huffman, recounts the tragic case of Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old white woman who was assaulted during her jog in Manhattan’s Central Park jog. The lawsuit alleged that Fairstein is depicted as a racial profiler who dismissed evidence showing five teenage boys—all Black or Hispanic and later dubbed the Central Park Five—did not beat and rape Meili.

“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 lawsuit alleges. “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.”

The teenagers were wrongly convicted after being coerced to confess. Their convictions were overturned in 2002, and they were later awarded $41 million in a lawsuit against the city.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.