Thursday, February 5, 2009

Legal Legacy

Icicles on the canopy of an East Village entrance. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
February 5, 2009. Yesterday was sunny and cold in New York. The streets were comparatively quiet in midtown.

I went down to Michael’s to lunch with Linda Fairstein,
the former prosecutor, assistant D.A. whose tenth mystery novel, "Lethal Legacy," (Doubleday) will be in the bookstores next week.

Michael’s was its typical jammed up Wednesday. Peter Brown with Shirley Lord next to Joe Armstrong and Chris Meigher who were across from Elizabeth Harrison who was with former Spice Girl, the beautiful Melanie Brown and her husband Stephen Belafonte. In the corner: Michael J. Wolfe, then Stan Shuman of Allen & Company and guest; then Barbara Walters with Tina Brown. Across from the them the longtime pals, Dr. Imber, Jerry della Femina, Michael Kramer, Andy Bergman. Across the way, Bobby Friedman and Lisa Caputo, and then Patricia Duff with Joel Silverman. Moving around the room: Vernon Jordan with Louise Grunwald; Cindy Lewis and Diane Silberstein, David Adler, Liz Lange with Glamour’s EIC Cindi Leive, who is the Big Rumor concerning a New Post in the Conde Nast scheme of things. There are other ways of presenting that rumor and other names attached to it. Change, they call it in the new Administration and change is what it will be called here.

Stephen Belafonte and Spice Girl, Melanie Brown
Keeping on around the room: Harriet Weintraub and guest; Peter Price, Ed Blier, Nancy Peretsman, Jared Kushner, Tommy Mottola, Ron Weintraub, Barbara Cirkva, Candy Pratts Price; Bonnie Timmerman, Richard Rubenstein, Joan Gelman; Jonathan Wald with Charlie Walk; Nick Simunek with Michael Mailer, David Corvo.

And I was riveted in conversation with Linda Fairstein. She and I have known each other for several years – but have never had intense conversation. New York in my line of work can be that way: you see someone out and about often, occasionally sit next to them at some dinner or lunch, occasionally have brief conversations or maybe a laugh or two, ships passing the night. Sometimes it’s someone you think you’d probably really like if you got to know him or her. Sometimes that happens. And most times, it doesn’t.

In other words, Linda Fairstein and I have been the small town equivalent of neighbors who see each other coming and going fairly frequently.

We scheduled this lunch so that I could shine some light on her new mystery novel “Lethal Legacy” and its pub date. This being the tenth of a series about Alexandra Cooper, of the DA’s Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, best-sellers on the New York Times List.

I wanted to know how she became Linda Fairstein, Sex Crimes Prosecutor, mystery novelist and girl about town/woman of the world which she is. (She and her husband lawyer Justin Feldman are long time luminaries on the private dinner circuit and benefit gala lists.)

She grew up in Mount Vernon, New York just outside the city, when it was still a small town. Her father was the local doc, the old-fashioned kind who looked after members of the community whether they could pay or not. Her mother was one of those mothers whom all the other kids in the neighborhood loved because she opened her house up to them. She died last July in her mid-80s and Linda is still getting notes and emails from childhood friends expressing their fond memories of Mrs. Fairstein.

Her parents married just before he went off to serve in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. They wrote to each other every day. When Linda was clearing out her mother’s belongings and effects recently, she found 600 letters written by her father to her mother during the War. That devotion evidently followed through all the years of their lives and, from the sound of it, graced their relationship with their daughter and son as well.

DPC and Linda Fairstein
Linda loved mysteries from the time she was a kid. Nancy Drew; first the Hardy Boys books which had belonged to her older brother (who is also a lawyer). Her father, the doctor, as it happened, also loved mysteries. When she was eleven he took her to see Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder” which was a movie about rape.

Rape in those days was not a word you’d hear mentioned on the Silver Screen or in daily conversation. Like many other words that are commonplace in today’s vernacular, the word was rarely used in everyday conversation. Linda’s father somehow had not been aware of the subject of the movie he was taking his 11-year-old daughter to see. He was mortified when he realized it. And being a well-known MD in the town, taking his 11-year-old to see a movie about a rape; what kind of man would do that? That was the thinking back in those innocent times. So when the picture was over, he said to his child: “We’re just going to sit in our seats until the theater clears out.”

She always loved to read. She probably loved school too. She’s one of those smart ones, like Hillary. She majored in English Lit at Vassar and when she told her father that she wanted to be a writer, he suggested instead that she find a vocation where she could be sure of making a living. So she went to Law School -- UVA. Which she loved. She loves the Law, and she wanted to be in the courtroom.

There were four women in her class at UVA. It’s different now. When she got herself into the courtroom, that was a first too. That came with Robert Morgenthau, who replaced Frank Hogan as DA. Hogan didn’t believe women should be in the courtroom. The gentler sex and all that. The Feminist movement in the late 1960s changed things, and Mr. Morgenthau was more in tune with the times.

Before the laws changed in 1974, a woman who had been raped could not appear in court unless she had witnesses. All the lone cases – almost all the cases – were subjected to the process: take the testimony and send them home. Finito.

Click image to order.
The new law also opened up the profession for women. Linda landed up in the courtroom handling the sex crimes. Robert Chambers, the preppie murder. A sadder, more hopeless tale of Manhattan would be hard to find. Linda’s approach to her work and to the humanity that created it turned out to be fodder for the writer.

In the mid-90s, after more than 20 years as head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the DA’s office, she published her first Alexandra Cooper mystery novel, “Final Jeopardy.” Three years before she’d published a non-fiction “Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape.” The first novel was followed the next year by “Likely To Die,” followed by eight more in the last eight years.

In 2002, after 30 years working in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, she left and became a full time consultant, writer, lecturer and media expert on sex crimes as well as one of the country’s foremost legal experts on crimes of violence against women and children. She also serves on the Board of Safe Horizon.

She’s very verbal and is generous in sharing her observations and experiences. Perhaps because her mother died only last July she still has her mother very much in her thoughts. But it’s more than that. I had the feeling that this woman, Linda Fairstein, legal eagle, best-selling novelist was first and foremost The Daughter of a very nice couple, people of empathy and fondness for people. Listening to her talk about growing up with these people, I finally said to her: “I need to ask you one thing: do you have any personal problems that you’ve had to take through life?”

I laughed and she laughed. I don’t want to use the word “normal” because what is that anyway. But the child, The Daughter, is living splendidly having followed both her father’s advice and her bliss. And making good use of it too.

Next week’s the book party for “Lethal Legacy” is here in New York and then the book tour begins which will take her down south, cross country. I’m sure you’ll be seeing her and hearing her across the airwaves too.

When I called for the check, I was informed that it had been taken care of. I cudda spent the rest of the afternoon listening. She had a three o’clock to get her roots done (“before the book tour”) as she put it. We got our coats. I walked her over to Lexington and 58th. I cudda just stuck around and listened some more ... this life, this amazing woman. And so cheerful and ready to laugh. What could be better? I don’t know.
Robin Hall, Commissioner Ray Kelly, Veronica Kelly, co-founder of the New York Pops, Ruth Henderson, and Steven Reineke, the New York Pops' new conductor
The calendar is beginning to warm up. Last night I went to a cocktail party at the Park Avenue apartment of Rick Friedberg and Francine LeFrak. The Friedberg-LeFraks love to entertain and their gatherings often have to do with something cultural and philanthropic happening in the city.

Francine LeFrak, James Johnson, CEO of the New York Pops, Ruth Henderson, and Rick Friedberg
Last night it was for the Board of the New York Pops which has just named a new musical director Steven Reineke who is coming from Cincinnati where he was associate conductor for the Cincinnati Pops.

Mr. Reineke has a three-year contract with the orchestra. This marks the end of a three year search to replace the New York Pops founder (with his wife Ruth) Skitch Henderson who died in 2005. Mr. Reineke will conduct the New York Pops for the first time at their annual birthday (26th) gala at Carnegie Hall on Monday April 27th. He will made is actual season debut on October 9th at Carnegie Hall.

From the LeFrak-Friedbergs, I went a block up the avenue to a cocktail reception at the apartment of Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels.

The Kellogg-Henckels are in the Tiffany and real estate business respectively and last night’s party was a kind of house-warming although they moved in two years ago after acquiring it from the estate of Fernanda’s father, Fran Kellogg.

Big crowd, all happy to see each other, as well as having a look see at the “new” apartment – classic elegance.
James Johnson, June Freemanzon, and Dan Dutcher Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels

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