■ BY SUE ERWIN
She worked at the first district attorney’s office in the country that introduced DNA evidence in a major homicide case in 1986, before the courts ever accepted it as reliable. She was also responsible for helping change the way laws treated domestic violence cases.
Linda Fairstein will be the featured guest speaker at the Johann Fust Library Foundation’s annual benefit on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 4:30 p.m. in the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium.
Fairstein is the best-selling author of more than 20 books. She was a prosecutor at the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for almost three decades and is America’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence.
The television series “Law & Order Special Victims Unit” was based on work done in Fairstein’s office, and actors and actresses from the show shadowed her during her prosecution days to get a close look at how to process a crime from forensics through conviction.
“No subject area within the law had changed as radically in the 1980s and 1990s as crimes of violence against women and children and how they were investigated,” Fairstein said. “It was the most revolutionary change in the criminal justice system.”
The FBI first started using DNA databanks in 1999, and Fairstein and her colleagues were heavily involved in getting the laws changed. She graduated from law school in 1972. Out of 340 students in her law school class, there were a dozen women. She wanted to be in public service, so she accepted the position as a prosecutor in New York.
“Females were not allowed to try cases at that time, but my boss thought it was important that a woman be the person that the public could identify with, because in the 1970s these crimes were rarely prosecuted – people didn’t trust the system,” Fairstein said. “The media wasn’t receptive to covering the trials, because it was such a dark subject matter.”
She said the New York City Police Department was fully supportive of her team’s work, because the officers would see the victims weekly, and they were overwhelmed with cases, so they were very interested in helping.
“Everything in the system needed to be changed to make our work possible, and they were appreciative of our work.”
Fairstein had planned on being a writer or possibly a journalist before going to law school.
She wrote five crime novels while still working as a prosecutor.
Her Alexandra Cooper novels based on her work experience are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She is also the author of the “Devlin Quick Mysteries” for youth, a series for eight-to-12-year-old readers.
Her most recent book, “Deadfall,” is a crime mystery that takes place against the backdrop of the Central Park Zoo. In March of 2019, her latest mystery, “Blood Oath,” will be released.
Fairstein left the office in 2002 but still does pro bono work for victims of violence around the nation.
“The Library Foundation is thrilled to have Linda, and we feel very honored,” said Johann Fust Library Foundation Executive Director Bobbie Marquis. “She is a best-selling author, but she has also made the world a safer place.”
General admission tickets are still available at $75 per person, and some sponsorship opportunities are still available.
For tickets, call the Foundation office at (941) 964-0211.