Elizabeth Lederer, a Central Park Five prosecutor, announced she is leaving her Columbia Law post after backlash following a Netflix series, according to Bloomberg Law.
Netflix released “When They See Us,” which followed the case of black and Latino teens charged with the assault and rape of a jogger 30 years ago. The teens were exonerated in 2002. Lederer was the lead prosecutor on a 1989 case that led to the wrongful conviction of Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam. They were minors at the time of their prosecution. The case is being reexamined Friday, August 21, 2020 on ABC 20/20.
Following the Netflix release, Columbia Law students demanded she be fired.
Bloomberg Law highlighted her announcement in a tweet. She later announced she was leaving her post.
BREAKING: Elizabeth Lederer cites publicity over Netflix series as reason she won't renew Columbia Law post. Students had demanded her firing. https://t.co/mQ1QOgbaye
— Bloomberg Law (@BLaw) June 12, 2019
Lederer was a part-time lecturer at Columbia Law School. The school lists her as an adjunct faculty member and lecturer in law. She decided not to seek reappointment for her post.
Columbia Law School Dean Law Gillian Lester responded to the announcement in a statement.
“The mini-series has reignited a painful—and vital—national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice,” Lester said. “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 remains an active prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Her bio on Columbia Law highlights her trial experience.
The Black Law Students Association at Columbia University sent a letter addressed to the “law school community” June 11 demanding Columbia Law fire Lederer as “just a start.”
“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the letter says. “During the investigation, Lederer and her colleagues used harmful, racist tactics, including physical abuse and coercion, to force confessions from the five minors. The case they built was founded on false information and an overwhelming lack of physical evidence. As a result, five boys spent their formative years in prison until the charges were vacated in 2002 after the real perpetrator confessed to the crime and DNA evidence linking him to the crime was discovered.”
The Columbia Black Law Students Association tweeted a copy of the letter.
— Columbia BLSA (@columbia_blsa) June 11, 2019
They responded to the dean’s announcement on Twitter, saying they are pleased with the announcement and hope to promote “inclusivity in the classroom.”
While we are pleased with this announcement, we recognize there is much work to be done. We hope to work with the administration, faculty, and students to implement mandatory trainings for all faculty, and to ensure more inclusivity in the classroom. pic.twitter.com/qDp8rR4y13
— Columbia BLSA (@columbia_blsa) June 12, 2019
The tweet said, “While we are pleased with this announcement, we recognize there is much work to be done. We hope to work with the administration, faculty, and students to implement mandatory trainings for all faculty, and to ensure more inclusivity in the classroom.”
Lederer’s biography on the Columbia Law website says she has lectured on trial practice and general litigation at multiple institutions.
“As senior trial counsel in the forensic and cold case unit, Lederer reviews and re-investigates unsolved murder and rape cases,” the Columbia Law bio says. “She has previously worked in the labor racketeering unit investing organized crime in the construction industry, as well as in the sex crimes and career criminal units.”
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Elizabeth Lederer Blamed Resignation on Netflix Portrayal
The Columbia Law School Office of the Dean relayed Lederer’s announcement. Dean Gillian Lester convened a special committee last year on diversity inclusion which included faculty, students, and administrators, the announcement said.
“A centerpiece of the committee’s charge is to examine ways to advance and support inclusive teaching and learning experiences,” the letter says. “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.”
The letter also relayed a brief statement from Lederer, which blamed her resignation on publicity generated by the Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”
“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,” the statement says. “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.”
Columbia Black Students’ Organization’s Petition Asks For More
The Columbia University Black Students’ Organization circulated a petition on Change.org which was nearing its goal of 10,000 signatures Wednesday evening. In addition to demanding Lederer step down from her position, the petition also asks the Columbia University School of Medicine to revoke Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein’s Award of Excellence. She was also involved in the prosecution of the Central Park Five.
The petition references the Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us,” directed by Ava DuVernay.
“Duvernay’s account exposes viewers to the harmful tactics used by the New York Police Department to elicit confessions from these minors, including physical abuse and coercion, as well as how the case, prosecuted by Elizabeth Lederer and Assistant District Attorney Linda Fairstein, was built upon conflicting and false information, the characterization of young black men as inherently criminal, and an overwhelming lack of physical evidence,” the petition says. “Additionally, the series offers insight into the difficult experiences faced by these five men after being wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes that they did not commit.”
Central Park Five Wrongly Convicted As Minors
In 1989, a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili was badly beaten and raped during a job in Central Park. She was in a coma for 12 days, according to BBC.
Five teens were charged with the crime, and became known as the Central Park 5. Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Korey Wise, 16, were charged in the case. Four of the boys were questioned by police for at least seven hours without their parents before they made confessions, BBC reported. No evidence found on the scene corroborated their confessions.
The sentence was vacated in 2002 when a man confessed to committing the rape and assault of the Central Park jogger. His confession was corroborated by DNA evidence.