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Fairstein, Linda A.


FAIRSTEIN, LINDA A. (1943– ), U.S. prosecutor and author. Fairstein grew up in Mount Vernon, n.y., a suburb of New York City. She went to Vassar College and the University of Virginia Law School. In 1972 she began working in the office of Frank Hogan, the Manhattan district attorney. At the time, the office had seven women among 170 prosecutors. By 2001, when she left, half of the office's 600 prosecutors were women. In a 30-year career of major cases, legislative reforms, and best-selling books that explored the legal and emotional realities of rape, Fairstein became the nation's best-known prosecutor of sex crimes. She became chief of the sex-crimes unit in 1976, two years after it was created as the first such unit in the country. It had four prosecutors at the time; when she left it had 40. In 1977 Fairstein was a principal advocate of New York's so-called rape shield law, which prohibited, in most cases, what had long been a common defense practice in rape and sexual assault cases: exploring the sexual history of victims to suggest promiscuity. Later she lobbied successfully for a similar law in rape-homicide prosecutions. Fair stein was also credited with a major role in the passage of a law in 1983 that struck down a requirement that victims of rape and other sex crimes prove that they had offered "earnest resistance." She also was a principal advocate of the Sexual Assault Reform Act of 2001, which facilitated the prosecution of date rape and of rapes involving the use of drugs.

As chief of the sex-crimes unit in the district attorney's office, she oversaw the disposition of 500 to 700 cases a year involving rape and other sexual abuses. Between 125 and 175 of those cases were prosecuted as felonies. Fairstein played a key role in a notorious 1986 case involving Robert E. Chambers Jr., who killed Jennifer Levin in Central Park after an evening in a "preppie bar." Fairstein doggedly prosecuted the case and used the defense's own witness to demonstrate that Chambers's choke hold on the victim could have been intentionally lethal.

Fairstein served as the model for several no-nonsense prosecutors in the movies Farrell for the People (1982) and Presumed Innocent (2001). The author Robert Daley dedicated his 1985 novel, Hands of a Stranger, to Fairstein, and fictionalized many of her well-known cases. It was made into a television movie.

In 1996, Fairstein published her first novel, Final Jeopardy, which introduced the character Alexandra Cooper, who bore a striking resemblance to the author. The book was a critical and commercial success and was followed the next year by Likely to Die, which was an international bestseller. By 2005 she had published six novels. Her nonfiction book, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, published in 1994, was a New York Times notable book.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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