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Sergeant Max Greevey
Played by: George Dzundza (Season 1)
"Seventeen-year-olds shouldn't be doing the thing that makes babies."
- Big Fun
- Deadpan Snarker
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Got shot in the first episode of Season Two.
- Raised Catholic: '80s Catholic. It can be somewhat bizarre viewed thirty years later.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: He appeared in only one season of the show, which considering its length is absolutely nothing.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: He hates walkup apartment buildings.
Detective Mike Logan (Seasons 1-5)
Played by: Chris Noth
Secretary: Are you in charge of this ape?
Max Greevey: My cross to bear.
"She was a bottomless pit. Always 'give me your undivided attention'. And when my old man couldn't take it anymore and whacked her, she'd turn around and whack me. She got this look in her eye- I knew it was coming. And that cold witch in there... she's got that same look."
- Abusive Parents: His dad hit his mom. His mom got drunk and hit him.
- Alcoholic Parent: His Lady Drunk mother
- Breakout Character: Most people with an opinion say it's not Law & Order without Lennie Briscoe, but there's a good number who don't think it's Law & Order without Lennie Briscoe or Mike Logan. His departure from the show was considered to be the loss of "the heart" of Law & Order.
- Cartwright Curse: His partners sure do get shot a lot.
- Catch Phrase: "(Criminal commits some crime and then does something mundane or fun?)... Now THAT is cold."
- Cowboy Cop: Not so much a cowboy as he is a hothead, but the practical outcome can be pretty similar.
- Deadpan Snarker: Consistently. His partnership with Briscoe was a war of one-liners.
- Fair Cop: See immediately above.
- Fatal Flaw: Mike has a very short temper.
- Forgotten Childhood Friend: The case that uncovered his Rape as Backstory past kicks off with the death of a policeman who was Logan's friend when they were young.
- Hollywood Atheist: Due to his abusive childhood at the hands of religious individuals. Logan has no faith in the Catholic church as an institution, but his thoughts on God are a bit less clear. This thread is tugged again in the Criminal Intent series with a somewhat open resolution. He does make it inside a church again before death.
- Hot-Blooded: He's the first through the door when it's kicked down and the most likely to put his hands on a suspect.
- It's Personal: After Max is killed, which is ironic given the bad blood between the two actors.
- Mr. Fanservice: He's played by Chris "Mr. Big" Noth.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: During his time on the show, he makes comments that could variously be described as sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and homophobic (although he seems to more or less get over that one in his final episode). He seems to be a misanthropist above all else and does show legitimate remorse when he sees how the black (and offensive) humour common in the force is taken by outsiders.
- Put on a Bus: After punching out a homophobic city councilman (and probable murderer) for claiming they were Not So Different, he was exiled to Staten Island. The Made-for-TV Movie Exile: A Law & Order Movie brought him back five years later, and he eventually returns as part of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent cast.
- Quip to Black: His designated job before passing the baton to Briscoe.
- Rape as Backstory: A friend set him up to be molested by a Catholic priest as a young boy.
- Really Gets Around: Mike has a lot of ex-girlfriends, given the number of references he makes to them and Briscoe's comments about his love life.
- Transplant: From the original series to Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Captain Donald Cragen
Played by: Dann Florek (Seasons 1-3)
The entire city is enraged at the deaths of people who, normally, they wouldn't have time of day for.
- The Alcoholic: Part of his backstory.
- Bald of Awesome: Bald. Fairly sarcastic, but awesome.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: His departure wasn't explained until the episode "Bad Faith" three years later, which revealed that he was heading up the Anti-Corruption Task Force.
- Clear My Name: In "Blue Wall," in which he is suspected of corruption due to guilt by association.
- Da Chief: First head of the 27th in the series.
- Deadpan Snarker: Merciless. Don't ask him about verbal altercations.
- No Indoor Voice: Considering the rate of turnover, can you blame him?
- Team Dad: Averted. He takes on this role in SVU.
- Transplant: From the original series to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Sergeant Phil Cerreta
Played by: Paul Sorvino (Season 2, eight episodes of Season 3)
Thirty years... charmed life... I never even... fired....
- By-the-Book Cop: Never uses any form of trickery, and is always polite to even the worst of suspects, but is still a very effective detective.
- Cool Hat: The ushanka of awesome.
- Cool Old Guy: Same deal as Max.
- Put on a Bus: Shot by a gun dealer in "Prince Of Darkness", Cerreta accepted a desk job afterwards.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: For Max Greevey. They look so similar a casual viewer might not figure it out. Except that only one of them dies for real. Both of them are rather large men. According to Jerry Orbach, while he was filming one of his first episodes on the streets of New York, a kid said to him, "You're the new fat guy, right?"
- We Hardly Knew Ye: One season and eight episodes. Replaced with Lennie Briscoe, the man who became the face of the franchise, so most people don't even remember Phil, even though he was on for longer than Greevey.
Detective Lennie Briscoe
Played by: Jerry Orbach (thirteen episodes of Season 3, Season 4-14)
If I was kidding I'd be wearing a Fez and no pants.
- The Alcoholic: A major part of his backstory as well as a plot point in one episode. When introduced, he's sober. In "Aftershock," he falls off the wagon, which starts the chain of events that leads to Claire's death. He starts going back to AA after the events of that episode.
- The Atoner: To his children. Not surprising, as he was raised Catholic.
- Badass Grandpa: Lennie was on the show a long time, so this came to apply, particularly after we got Ed Green.
- Breakout Character: There is a large group of people who think it's not Law & Order if it doesn't have Lennie Briscoe. He was the face of the show along with Jack McCoy.
- The Cast Show Off: A striking aversion. Despite Jerry Orbach being a Tony Award-winning song and dance man who even recorded a solo album, Lennie Briscoe never sings a single note on the show, and at one point claims to be no good at music. However, Orbach did have a few occasions to display his talents at trick shots in pool.
- Character Death: Upon actor Jerry Orbach's death, both Detective Logan and Detective Green referenced Briscoe's (off-screen) death, also from cancer.
- Cool Old Guy: Lennie Briscoe was the defining example on '90s television.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lennie made the Quip to Black trope. One series of adverts for the show were titled Briscoe's Best.
- Disappeared Dad: Because of his drinking and divorce, he wasn't the best father, and his present day relationships with his daughters are strained at best. He blames himself for the death of his younger daughter Cathy, believing that if they'd had a better relationship she wouldn't have started dealing drugs and subsequently been killed by her former dealer.
- Dirty Cop: There are hints of this in his past, when he was a drinker. In the present, it's a role he plays to the hilt to get snitches to trust him, but the audience never sees anything but decency from him. However, his knowledge of the dirty cop play book often gives him the inside track on cases.
- Fatal Flaw: Briscoe had drinking problems.
- Known Only by Their Nickname Lennie's full name isn't seen or spoken until his final episode: it's Leonard J. Briscoe.
- The nameplate on his desk, however, read Leonard W. Briscoe.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: It's downplayed in later episodes, but his first appearance has him make some pretty xenophobic remarks about Italians and Latinos.
- Papa Wolf: He's offered a chance to put a hit on his daughter's killer. His daughter's killer later turns up dead, allegedly from a heroin overdose; whether or not Lennie was involved is left ambiguous.
- Quip to Black: The Trope Codifier.
- Revolvers Are Just Better: Lennie predates the regular issuing of automatics, so he keeps his .38 to the day he leaves the show.
- Sherlock Scan: When he first shows up at a crime scene, he immediately and correctly deduces that the uniformed officer on the scene was lying about what he was doing and where he was, and identifies both: eating donuts at a particular shop, based on the powdered sugar on his blues.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Averted; he's notably different from his predecessors. Where they were both fairly reasonable, well-adjusted family men, Briscoe is a snarky, cynical recovering alcoholic with two failed marriages behind him.
- Transplant: Orbach left the show to do Trial By Jury, because his prostate cancer was getting worse and Trial By Jury, being a Law Procedural, made his work less demanding. Unfortunately, Orbach succumbed to his cancer, which had made him so weak that they had to re-write his last scene in the series to accommodate him.
- UST: Frequently flirts with Dr. Rogers, though it's hard to say what he actually feels. But he did take her to the opera once, according to her.
Lieutenant Anita Van Buren
Played by: S. Epatha Merkerson (Seasons 4-20)
Oh, am I sitting too close? What, I remind you of somebody? Your mother? Was she dark-skinned? High yellow? Redbone? You're scared now, aren't you? You been scared for almost 40 years.
- Black Boss Lady: Black, the boss, a lady. What more can be said?
- By-the-Book Cop: Demands that her detectives toe the line, and when they engage in unethical or illegal conduct (such as when Briscoe perjured himself to try and convict a cop-killer) she will chew them out for it.
- Da Chief: Second head of the house, from Cragen's departure to the very last episode.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: God help you if you try to baby her, she will not stand for it.
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: She applied to be Captain at one point, but a white woman with less seniority was promoted instead. She then sued the NYPD, which resulted in internal police politics coming into play making things harder for her and her unit, to the point where she was told by her superior she would have to resign to get her detectives the resources they needed; a judge later dismissed her lawsuit, and she never received a promotion in all of her time on the show.
- Never Mess with Granny: You will regret it. Granny has a force of personality and intensity that are enough to make you cower in fear, and she carries a gun.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Especially when she first appeared. She replaced Captain Cragen, who continually harped to his subordinates of what can't be done, she focused on directing her troops on what can be done.
- Twofer Token Minority: Her original role on the show could easily be seen this way. Indeed, Merkerson has often noted that at the time she was hired, no black woman in the NYPD had yet risen to the rank of Lieutenant.
Detective Rey Curtis
Played by: Benjamin Bratt (Seasons 5-9)
Rey Curtis: No, what you've got is a lot of nerve, Lennie, making it sound like I agree with you, partner.
Lennie Briscoe: It never occurred to me that you wouldn't, partner. What, you wanna see this scum bounce?
Rey Curtis: I wanna see him strapped down with a needle in his arm but I'm not gonna perjure myself to make it happen!
Lennie Briscoe: It never occurred to me that you wouldn't, partner. What, you wanna see this scum bounce?
Rey Curtis: I wanna see him strapped down with a needle in his arm but I'm not gonna perjure myself to make it happen!
- The Atoner: After cheating on his wife, he does everything he can to salvage their marriage. More generally, he's a faithful Catholic who plays by the rules and the least cynical of all the detectives to appear on the show.
- Back for the Finale: In the final season we saw Van Buren attending his wife's funeral.
- Bilingual Bonus: His ethnicity and fluent Spanish enabled him to develop a rapport with witnesses and victims, garnering necessary information the detectives might otherwise not have gotten.
- By-the-Book Cop: In his methods, yes, to the point of exasperating others.
- Character Development: He starts off quite judgmental, aloof and self-righteous, which creates tension with the more laid-back Briscoe. A few years on the job (and a slip in his morality after he has a brief affair), he's more relaxed about things and has a better working relationship with Briscoe.
- Chick Magnet: While Mike Logan's success with the ladies was more of an Informed Ability, our boy Rey is quite popular with the females. Examples include Jamie from S6s "Aftershock", Lisa from the S7s LA trilogy, his female boss at OCCB who sexually harassed him, and about 80% of the women that are witness, suspects, friends of witnesses and suspects, and plain old friends who help out on cases.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Not just women are attracted to him. In one episode, a guest detective makes a man as gay because he was checking Curtis out.
- Expository Hairstyle Change: He decides to cut his hair later in the series; symbolizing his more relaxed personality.
- Fair Cop: Considering that Bratt was cast to replace Noth, this was guaranteed.
- Fatal Flaw: Curtis couldn't curb his infidelity.
- Happily Married: His wife considers divorce after his affair, but they stay together. When Bratt decided to leave the show, Curtis stepped down to a desk job so he could spend more time with his wife (who had recently been diagnosed with MS).
- Inspector Javert: He has an initially unyielding black-and-white view of crime and criminals, but this softens slightly over time.
- Rabid Cop: His early appearances had him as this. He once pulled his service pistol on a biker simply because the guy referred to Curtis as a spic. Thanks to Briscoe and Van Buren's influence he mellowed out pretty quick.
- Raised Catholic: And how. He's still faithful, as demonstrated several times throughout his run, and he often uses his knowledge of the faith to convince other believers to talk.
- Your Cheating Heart: Cheats on his wife in the Season Six finale, and is eventually so consumed with guilt over it that he spills the beans to his wife, who wouldn't have found out otherwise. His guilt gets even worse when his wife is diagnosed with MS.
Detective Ed Green
Played by: Jesse L. Martin (Seasons 10-18)
Defense Attorney: Detective! Put a leash on your partner!
Lennie Briscoe: We gave up, he chewed through all of ours.
- Character Development: From a rash, short-tempered Cowboy Cop to mature, wise mentor to his younger partners.
- Cowboy Cop: Van Buren notes he already has some discipline issues for excessive force, and early on he tends to be much more physical with suspects than absolutely necessary.
- Cunning Linguist: Speaks fluent Spanish, as well as a decent amount of French and some Russian "enough to get a date".
- Fair Cop
- The Gambling Addict: It's referred to several times, usually mentioning his frequent trips to Atlantic City, though it's never known how severe a problem it was. It even comes back to bite him in the ass during "Burn Card"—he mentions that his despondency over Lennie's retirement and later, his death was enough to trigger a relapse, kicking off a chain of events that led to his downfall.
- Tall, Dark and Handsome: At 6'3", he's the tallest of the detectives on the mothership, and the third-tallest of all the detectives in the American versions (behind Detectives Goren and Nichols.)
- Scary Black Man: He isn't actually, but he'll often pretend to be during interrogations. Which ironically leads to him being Mistaken for Racist when he makes a sarcastic comment to a perp about the perks he gets for beating up black suspects.
Detective Joe Fontana
Played by: Dennis Farina (Seasons 15-16)
Suspect: Is that a threat?
Joe Fontana: A threat? No. A threat would be more like... 'If you stonewall this investigation any more I'm gonna break your jaw. And when you're on the ground, I'm gonna kick you 'till you spit blood you cheap shyster.' That would be a threat. This is more of a request.
- Badass Grandpa: Don't let his smooth talk and slick style fool you - if he has to get rough, he will.
- Catchphrase: "We're authorized"
- Cowboy Cop
- Cool Old Guy
- Dirty Cop: This was suggested in a long-running B-plot that backed up several episodes, due to the fact that he always had a money clip filled with at least a couple of grand on him, lived in an expensive condo, wore tailored suits, and drove a sports car, all on a cop's salary. But this was averted when...
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: On more than one occasion. Don't kill a cop or kidnap a kid near him.
- Rabid Cop
- Secretly Rich: ... it turned out that Fontana's grandfather was "the original Chef Luigi" (a Bland-Name Product alternative for Chef Boyardee), and that Fontana's been living off his share of the family fortune since he was a teenager.
Detective Nick Falco
Played by: Michael Imperioli (Four episodes of Season 15)
- The Bus Came Back: For one episode, in which he's a murder suspect. And he's the one who keeps finding all the key evidence, even though he's on suspension. He was framed.
- Temporary Substitute (he replaced Ed Green for four episodes when Jesse L. Martin was filming RENT.
- We Hardly Knew Ye
Detective Nina Cassady
Played by: Milena Govich (Season 17)
Anita Van Buren: What is your issue Cassidy? You're always leadin' with your chin, always playin' tough. It's not smart. A good cop never takes the bait, never escalates.
"Mr. Glover, if I really had it in for your client, I could have dropped him with a justifiable shooting when I found him stabbing his own daughter to death. But I didn't. Because I exercised the control I learned in my training. That control is why your client is still alive today."
- Action Girl
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Not mentioned again after Season 17, though the finale implied Van Buren was going to get her transferred out after one too many slip-ups.
- Cowboy Cop
- Ensign Newbie: Very young to have moved from being a uniform cop to a homicide detective. Van Buren in particular feels that she is too inexperienced and only got her gold shield because the brass wanted some good PR.
- Fair Cop: The fairest of them all.
- Noodle Incident: How Nina got tagged "The Beauty Queen Detective" was barely addressed and only in her debut episode.
- Never Live It Down: The incident is one of the reasons her co-workers at the 27th have a hard time taking her seriously.
- It's implied, actually, that when Nina was in the 97th, she did an undercover operation at a beauty salon that went out of hand. Her impulsive bravery in that situation was widely admired by the press, but the police believe that she did it to garner sensationalism.
- We Hardly Knew Ye
Detective Cyrus Lupo
Played by: Jeremy Sisto (Seasons 18-20)
- The Alcoholic: Started as Drowning My Sorrows due to job related PTSD, but spiralled from there.
- Broken Ace: Lupo is introduced as a cool and mysterious anti-terrorism agent, but his past is filled with alcoholism and regret.
- Cool Shades
- Deadpan Snarker
- Pet the Dog: Literally — Lupo investigated a dogfighting ring, which led him to adopt a pit bull.
- Quip to Black
Detective Kevin Bernard
Played by: Anthony Anderson (Four episodes of Season 18, Seasons 19-20)
Executive Assistant District Attorney Benjamin "Ben" Stone
Played by: Micheal Moriarty (Seasons 1-4)
Dr. Edward Auster: When you practice medicine, Mr. Stone, sometimes the patient dies.
Ben Stone: And when you're a lawyer, Dr. Auster, some of the people you prosecute are convicted.
- Beware the Nice Ones
- Gentleman Snarker: When he calls you "sir", it means he doesn't like you.
- Opt Out: Resigns when one of his prosecutions results in the implied death of a woman who he had put on the stand as a witness.
- Raised Catholic
- Schiff One-Liner
- The Stoic: Ben had the emotional range of a brick. It made him all the scarier.
- Tranquil Fury: Masterfully portrayed in "Indifference". During the prosecution of a scumbag spousal/child abuser, the look he gives the aforementioned defendant makes it clear that he would beat the crap out of him if he could.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette
Played by: Richard Brooks (Seasons 1-3)
"Don't tell me that tearing down a 200-year old justice system, no matter how flawed, is going to alter the consciousness of a society. Now, we're past the separate drinking-fountain stage. We're past legal discrimination. We're at the hearts and minds stage. And believe me, there's no quick fix."
From "Out Of The Half-Light" (ep. 1-11)
Ben Stone once told me I'd have to decide if I was a black man who was a lawyer or a lawyer who was black. All these years, I thought I was the latter. All these years... I was wrong.
From "Custody" (ep.6-14)
- '80s Hair: The Flattop of Justice. The first time Robinette guest starred, Richard Brooks had notably shaved his hair.
- Amoral Attorney: In his return appearances as a defense attorney.
- Brother Chuck: Although he has come back for the occasional guest appearance, and his departure was explained in a deleted scene in Season 4.
- But Not Too Black: Frequently gets accused of this by other African Americans. Probably what led him to become a Malcolm X/Johnnie Cochran parallel.
- Face–Heel Turn
- Hidden Depths: The first episode that he guest-starred in proved him to be a more than competent attorney, competent enough to deadlock a jury. In contrast, when he was a regular Stone mostly had him do leg work.
- Malcolm Xerox: When he comes back as a defense attorney, and slings race cards like Al Sharpton on meth.
- Strawman Political: See above.
- Token Minority
District Attorney Alfred Wentworth
Played by: Roy ThinnesAppeared only in the pilot episode, and thus appears for the fewest episodes out of any regular cast member (1).
District Attorney Adam Schiff
Played by: Steven Hill (Seasons 1-10)
Adam Schiff: You got what you wanted. Take the rest of the week off.
Jack McCoy: It's Friday, Adam.
Adam Schiff: So it is. See you on Monday.
- Boring but Practical: He prefers to cut deals with suspects, which, while not as flashy and risky as trials, are much less expensive and ensure the suspect is punished.
- Catch Phrase: "Cut a deal."
- Commander Contrarian: Schiff's style is to appear resistant to any idea. At least this way, he can outsource blame.
- Grumpy Old Man
- Jews Love to Argue: He was big on arguing with McCoy especially, sometimes because it needed to be done and sometimes just because.
- Parental Substitute: For both Stone and McCoy. His relationship with Stone was more nurturing, and Adam was disappointed when Stone chose to resign. Schiff's relationship with McCoy, however, is more adversarial.
- Pragmatic Hero: He's personally opposed to the death penalty, but he's still willing to use it if the public demands it. He's also not above using the publicity of gruesome crimes and trials to get himself reelected. After all, he can't serve the justice system if he loses his position.
- Schiff One-Liner: Trope Namer
- Skewed Priorities: Played with. He often comes off as more concerned about a trial's impact on his chances for reelection than actual justice. However, when it comes down to it, unless his subordinates really push the boundaries of the law, Schiff will back them up during controversial trials.
- Team Dad
- Who Needs Enemies?: If a personal friend of his appears in an episode then it's likely they're corrupt and will sell out Schiff and the DA's office at the drop of a hat.
Assistant District Attorney Claire Kincaid
Played by: Jill Hennessy (Seasons 4-6)
- Bus Crash: Quite literally. Claire was originally supposed to only be paralyzed in the car crash in the Season 6 finale and then Put on a Bus, but when actress Jill Hennesey declined to return for a final episode in Season 7 she was killed off instead)
- Interestingly, Jill Hennessey has stated that she wanted to return and was not aware that her character was killed off until someone watched the episode and told her.
- Hello, Attorney!
- May–December Romance: With Jack.
- The McCoy: Amusing, given her boss' name.
- Retirony: She debates either resigning from the DA's office or quitting law altogether (and Jack talks her out of it) shortly before she's injured/killed in a car accident. Jack ends up feeling very guilty about this.
- Sleeping with the Boss: Although only indicated through very subtle Ship Tease hints during her time on the show, during an episode sometime after her death, it is confirmed on screen that she had been sleeping with McCoy, after her having told him when they first met that nothing of the sort would happen.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist
- Wham Line: In "Aftershock," Claire has a conversation with a law professor who seems to be a former teacher of hers, talking about the execution she witnessed and her feelings on various aspects of the legal system in general. Then just as Claire turns to leave:Mac: You know, your mother would like you to come by one of these days for dinner.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy (later District Attorney)
Played by: Sam Waterston (Seasons 5-20)
Jack McCoy: Ask me how I sleep at night.
Connie Robirosa: How do you sleep at night?
Jack McCoy: Like a baby.
- Abusive Parents: As revealed in "Aftershock" Jack's father was a policeman who drove him to succeed at all times and pushed him into law school rather than become a cop like him. He was also a chain-smoking drunk who regularly beat Jack's mother (and its implied he hit Jack as well). Jack still has something of a Broken Pedestal towards him, telling a Cutter that he still remembers when he realized that his dad was "a son of a bitch."
- Berserk Button: Bigots and children who get hurt are sore spots for him. So when he's prosecuting someone guilty of a hate crime or a crime against children, McCoy gets even more hostile towards the man or woman.
- Breakout Character: He didn't show up until the 5th season, but he became the face of the franchise, arguably even moreso than Lennie Briscoe. This was helped by the fact that, unlike Orbach, Waterston survived the series and Orbach's death made the District Attorney's office much more important.
- Character Development: Becomes less reckless and ruthless as he got older, especially when he becomes the District Attorney, and reprimands Cutter's actions, just as other DA's did with him. To wit, in person he actually withdrew a plea deal at a hearing revolving the surgery of young girl, much to Cutter's chagrin.
- Commuting on a Bus (after he becomes District Attorney)
- To elaborate, while his screentime got diminished he still had more of an active role than previous DAs.
- Determinator (The things he will do to get his way legally...)
- Hero with Bad Publicity: Due to some of the questionable ethics and legality of stunts he pulled by the time he becomes the actual DA he doesn't get that much respect from the Legal Establishment.
- Irony: In Arthur Branch's last episode Branch says McCoy may one day fill his seat. McCoy responds that he has no mind for politics. The very next episode, McCoy is filling Arthur's seat as District Attorney.
- It's Personal: The deaths of Claire Kincaid, ADA Ricci, and Alexandra Borgia cause him to go on legal Roaring Rampages of Revenge of sorts. All come close to getting him disbarred.
- Specifically: Following Claire's death, McCoy later collaborates with a judge to frame a drunk driver for first degree murder (the driver really killed the people, but was so intoxicated he couldn't form the intent needed for a murder charge. McCoy and the judge collaborated to keep evidence proving that the man was drunk out of court, so McCoy could falsely claim that he wasn't drunk and deliberately killed the people. It is implied that all this was because he was bitter that Claire's killer received a light sentence and wanted to see proper justice done for the victims in this case
- When a bit character, ADA Ricci, dies, McCoy suspends habeas corpus.
- After Borgia dies, McCoy sets up a show trial with fake evidence and perjured testimony to try to trick the killer into a confession.
- Jerkass Façade: Deliberately cultivates a reputation as a hardass, but frequently backs down when confronted with a defendant who legitimately deserves sympathy.To Jamie Ross, "Then you can tell him he's dealing with a junkyard dog."McCoy: Four minutes.Defense Attorney: Always have to play the tough guy, don't you.McCoy: Tough has nothing to do with this.Defense Attorney: You feel for the woman, Jack. It doesn't make you weak.McCoy: Three minutes.Defense Attorney: I could win this case, y'know.McCoy: Not when the judge instructs the jury on the definition of legal insanity.Defense Attorney: Ten years is a long time.McCoy: She killed a man.Defense Attorney: A scoundrel. ... Ten years, or until a panel of three medical professionals certifies she's not a threat to herself or others.McCoy: Doctors to be chosen by my office.Defense Attorney: But in the private psychiatric facility of her choice.McCoy: To be approved of by me and located within my jurisdiction. One minute.Defense Attorney: Done.McCoy: I tell the judge. [stands up to leave]Defense Attorney: It's not a bad thing, Jack.McCoy: What?Defense Attorney: Having a heart.
- It is made even more explicit in the episode, "Burned," where McCoy prosecutes a boy who is obviously mentally ill and needs to be committed to a mental hospital. However, the boy's grandfather interferes with the plea bargaining and blatantly would rather risk his grandson being sent to regular prison than have a mental commitment draw attention to his own fragile mental health. At this, McCoy goes out of his way to prevent that when he could have simply stayed out of the way and score an easy conviction win.
- Karma Houdini: He's done things that in real life would get you disbarred at best and imprisoned at worst. Yet, he some how ends up as DA. (However by that time he was a tarnished reputation, and he's eventually out of office as revealed in an episode in SVU a few seasons after the parent show ended).
- Knight Templar: His behavior could dip into this if a case struck close to home or the the cause was justice in his opinion. He's been willing to tear into the First Amendment and equal protection laws if it means a conviction.
- May–December Romance: Heavily implied with Claire; confirmed a couple of seasons after Claire's death.
- No Indoor Voice: Seriously,nobody can scream at the top of their lungs like Sam Waterston can.
- Old-School Chivalry: Subtle, but notice that every time he's speaking with a woman getting into a cab, he opens the door for her. Even if she's opposing counsel, a suspect, hindering prosecution, etc.
- Parental Substitute: As noted by Linus Roache, there's a fairly adversarial father-son dynamic between McCoy and Cutter, but generally McCoy acts as a surrogate father to Cutter, who has little-to-no contact with his biological father.
- Raised Catholic
- Schiff One-Liner
- Sleeping with the Boss: Is notorious for having had this kind of relationship with his assistants, all female. When he first came into the District Attorney's office, Claire Kincaid pointed out that he'd slept with all three of his previous assistants (and married one of them), to which Jack replied that all the relationships were mutually consensual. Then Claire declared that nothing of the sort would happen between herself and Jack, to which he agreed...only for them to get intimate later on down the line.
- Team Dad: Once he becomes District Attorney
- What the Hell, Hero?: his actions have been called out by Schiff, his colleagues, the judges, the Bar Association disciplinary committee, and eventually himself.
Assistant District Attorney Jamie Ross (later Judge)
Played by: Carey Lowell (Seasons 7-8)
- Hello, Attorney!
- Mama Bear: Her devotion to her daughter occasionally conflicts with the show, such that she debates quitting more than once and eventually is Put on a Bus because of it. Her Amoral Attorney ex-husband uses it against her to help his client.
- Re Tool: The character was originally a morally ambiguous ex-defense attorney who became a prosecutor after a client she got acquitted, went on to kill again. As such, she was originally a lot more underhanded and devious when it came to court room trickery. Sadly this was quickly dropped and the character was turned into a single mother Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Claire Kincaid.)
- Transplant (from the original to Law & Order: Trial by Jury, although she was only a recurring guest character in the latter)
- What the Hell, Hero?: She calls out Adam Schiff after he seems gleeful that the horrific rape and attempted murder of a young child happened near an election since a conviction would boost his chances of reelection.
Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael
Played by: Angie Harmon (Seasons 9-11)
Abbie Carmichael: I have a solution that will make us all happy.
Jack McCoy: What's that?
Abbie Carmichael: No deals for anybody. Let's hang 'em all.
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Albeit a brunette.
- Distaff Counterpart: When Abbie suggested they "hang 'em all" in her first episode, McCoy struggled not to laugh. For those not in the know, McCoy was once dubbed "Hang 'Em High McCoy" for his Draconian approach.
- Hello, Attorney!
- Inspector Javert: Often displays a black-and-white view of crime and criminals, to the point where in early season 9 she has zero sympathy towards a young woman she sent to prison on a minor drug charge who is now accused of arranging the murder of a guard who was abusing her (demanding sexual favors from her and threatening to harm her daughter if she didn't comply). It's especially disturbing considering that Abbie is a rape survivor herself, yet her attitude towards the woman is essentially disbelief mixed with, "It's your fault for doing something that put you in jail in the first place".
- She eventually relents and convinces McCoy to set up a good deal for the woman.
- When she's at Arraingment hearing, there's a venom in her voice as she makes the people's case why the defendants should not be given bail as opposed to the other ADA's who did this part of their job with a strict professionalism.
- Knight Templar: She's very keen to push for the Death Penalty and if that's not an option the most severe charge and sentence. In short, don't expect any mercy from her.
- Rape as Backstory: Abbie was date-raped by a law student when she was a college freshman.
- Smug Smiler: Whenever the Prosecution drops the bomb on the Defendants with new evidence or a witness that nails, she loves doing this.
District Attorney Nora Lewin (Seasons 11-12)
Played by: Dianne Wiest
- Brother Chuck
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: After the end of season 12. It's never explained in the show, but a companion book by Dick Wolf called Law & Order: Crime Scenes clarifies that she found herself disenchanted with the position of district attorney and chose not to run for election when her interim term was up.
- The McCoy
Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn
Played by: Elisabeth Rohm (Seasons 12-14, thirteen episodes of Season 15)
"Is this because I'm a lesbian?"
- Hello, Attorney!
- Lipstick Lesbian
- The McCoy: To the point where it got her fired.
- Shout-Out: Serena is named after one of Dick Wolf's kids.
- Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss: She didn't kiss anybody, but the effect was much the same.
- Suddenly Sexuality: Looking backwards you can see the attempts at foreshadowing, but they don't mean anything to anyone without hindsight. When she drops the bombshell in her final scene it's implied even her bosses didn't know.
- Interviews with Dick Wolf suggest that he wrote that scene just to shock the viewers and get them talking, implying that any and all foreshadowing was unintentional. This is reflected in viewer response, which was not 'Oh, that's so edgy' like Wolf expected, but more 'Oh, that's so cheap'.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist
District Attorney Arthur Branch
Played by: Fred Thompson (Seasons 13-17)
- Brother Chuck: When Fred Thompson decided to return to politics, Arthur was abruptly written out with Jack taking his place as DA. He was mentioned once or twice, afterward.
- Good Is Not Soft: He was elected to make New Yorkers feel safer in the wake of 9/11.
- Good Ol' Boy
- Large and in Charge
- Team Dad: Neither affectionate nor even really nice, but always ready with encouragement or to make an attempt at convincing before he ordered. Even when he fires Serena, he points out that she has the skills and mindset of a superb defense attorney...which simply don't work for a prosecutor.
- Transplant: Sort of. He became a regular cast member on spin off Law & Order: Trial by Jury, but he was still a cast member on the original series at the same time)
Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia (ten episodes of Season 15, Season 16)
Played by: Annie Parisse
Arthur Branch: So, what now? We pat each other on the back and break out the blue label?
Jack McCoy: Alexandra always hated that.
Arthur Branch: I just assumed she didn't like scotch.
Jack McCoy: The whole old boy ritual. It was a little much for her.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: She was kidnapped and viciously beaten. The beating caused her to vomit, but as she was gagged she choked on it. She choked to death on her own vomit.
- Dropped A Bridge On Her
Assistant District Attorney Connie Rubirosa
Played by: Alana de la Garza (Seasons 17-20)
- Dude Magnet: Every other episode has a man commenting her good looks.
- Fanservice Pack: Between seasons 17 and 18.
- Hello, Attorney!
- Multi-Ethnic Name: Her first name is American and her last name is Hispanic.
- Transplant: To Law & Order: Los Angeles.
- Twofer Token Minority: As a woman and an Hispanic. She's willing to call out whites for not understanding racism or men for not understanding misogyny. To be fair, she also calls out a Straw Feminist for going over the line.
- UST: With Cutter. She's jealous of his flirting with a legal assistant, and she knows very well that he's in love with her.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter
Played by: Linus Roache (Seasons 18-20)
Cyrus Lupo: Is this some sort of sport to you?
Michael Cutter: Stick with your law books, detective. On the page, the law is a much purer thing.
- Amoral Attorney: Even more so than Jack that even the detectives are appalled by his methods. To wit, during one tria; about a company that made drugs and did illegal human trials he cross-examines Van Buren out of the blue, about her cancer and how she uses the drugs to treat that are made by the company on trial. She is not happy about it at all, to the point she refuses to even speak with him.
Stick with your law books, detective. On the page, the law is a much purer thing.
- And of course there's this gem he says to Lupo:
- Awesome McCool Name
- Commander Contrarian
- The Friend Nobody Likes: With the police, since he went out of his way to needlessly antagonize them.
- Iconic Item: His baseball bat.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Manipulative Bastard
- Smug Snake: His earlier episodes usually had him disobey Jack's order to prove he knew better than the old man... and it always blew up in face. He got better.
- Strawman Political: At first, Cutter was portrayed as a Straw Republican, taking the conservative route just to be shot down by Jack. Now his arguments seem to be gaining weight, leading to a few cases of Strawman Has a Point.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: At least one person tells Connie that Cutter carries a torch for her. He really does.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Gets called on his more questionable actions often. One time when McCoy chews him out, he points out McCoy did the same thing, and McCoy has to remind him he got chewed out for what he did.
- Transplant: Plays a recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit now that the original has been cancelled.
Dr. Elizabeth Olivet
- Played by: Carolyn Mc Cormick (Seasons 2-7, 9, 13-20)
- Broken Bird
- Cowboy Cop: When she goes after a Smug Snake gynecologist who raped one of her patients—only to become a victim herself.
- Fake Guest Star
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Briefly.
Dr. Emil Skoda
- Played by: J. K. Simmons (Seasons 8-15, 20)
Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers
- Played by: Leslie Hendrix (Seasons 2-20)
Rogers: You get used to the smell.
Det. Ed Green: No you don't.Wise-cracking doctor who figures out why people died. Blase about her job, to the point of eating lunch in rooms containing corpses. She at least once had to perform an autopsy in a full HAZMAT suit. Appears in 143 episodes throughout seasons 2-20.
- Deadpan Snarker: Big time. A scene with her and Briscoe is a sight to behold.
- Fake Guest Star: She's been on the show longer than any of the regulars.
- Ship Tease: With Lennie Briscoe. They've gone out at least one, but whether it was as friends or something more is never explained. Ultimately nothing came of it and Briscoe dies before anything is confirmed.
- Transplant: Briefly to SVU, permanently to Criminal Intent.
Other police officers
Chief of Detectives LairdVan Buren's superior. He supports her through her bout with breast cancer. Appears in 3 episodes in seasons 18-20.
Detective Tony ProfaciAnother detective in the 27th precinct. Friendly and affable. Was working for the mob. Appeared in 45 episodes in seasons 1-9. His replacements are even less known than he is.
- Exposition Fairy: Typically does the work that's too boring to show on-screen and shows up to give the info to the main duo.
- Face–Heel Turn
- Fake Guest Star
Detective Morris LamotteDetective who worked with the squad in seasons 9-10. Burly and cheerful. In one episode he went undercover to a Neo-Nazi rally.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Disappeared without explanation, to be replaced by Cordova.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: To some extent he was a non-Italian Profaci.
Detective CordovaA younger Latina detective who apparently replaced Morris Lamotte and lasted from Season 11 to season 14.
Danielle MelnickMcCoy's friend and rival. Zealous, crusading attorney, who often takes on cases to make political points. Appeared 13 times, between seasons 2-17.
- Call Back: After "Open Season," where she is shot in The Tag, she disappears for several seasons. When she returns, she's using a cane.
- Characterization Marches On: In her first few appearances, she's just another of the show's revolving door of Amoral Attorneys who will work for anyone with the money to pay them. She didn't start being portrayed as a crusader until the episode "Hot Pursuit."
- Crusading Lawyer: Melnick is a civil rights extremist—she even defended a neo-Nazi who had shot a personal friend, because the principles were that important to her. Only problem is, they weren't as important to the defendant...
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: ...who asked her to send messages to the outside world, in defiance of a communication ban. She did, believing that the ban was cruel and unusual punishment. The messages turned out to be the next target for her client's associates to kill. Oops.
- What Have I Done: Once McCoy hit her with the results of her above actions.
- Worthy Opponent: She and McCoy are on much friendlier terms than he usually is with defense attorneys.
Professor Norman RothenbergA law professor who takes cases for rich clientele, Rothenberg delights in setting precedents that will help later cases — even going so far as to throw one case in order to be able to appeal it and have the appellate court rule certain types of searches unconstitutional. He admits that he only cares about the law, not justice. Appeared in 8 episodes, between seasons 4-18.
- Amoral Attorney
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: In his first appearance, he is clearly a stand-in for Alan Dershowitz (just as his client is the Distaff Counterpart of Claus von Bülow).
Shambala GreenGenerally worked for poor defendants. Was often involved on cases involving systematic oppression such as racism and oppression of mentally disabled people. Appeared in 6 episodes in season 1-4, and one additional episode in season 14.
- Malcolm Xerox
- My God, What Have I Done?: In one episode, a riot after a white motorist gets acquitted after knocking down an African-American child and fleeing the scene leads to an African-American man murdering a white man (who was unconnected to the original incident). Green manages to get the latter defendant acquitted after arguing that this actions were motivated and justified by racial anger. She looks quite satisfied with the result... until she looks over and sees the grieving widow of the second victim.
- Straw Feminist
- Worthy Opponent: Ben Stone seems to have have a lot of respect for her, and vice versa.
Lawrence WeaverAttorney for the rich. Known for being extremely well-prepared. Appeared in 7 episodes between seasons 4 and 12.
Arthur GoldShrewd attorney for the rich and high-profile. Stone had a rivalry with him. Appeared in 6 episodes between seasons 2-11.
- Amoral Attorney
- Batman Gambit: Gold could - and often did - goad Ben Stone into mistakes just by playing up his Smug Snake tendencies.
- One of these backfires on him when it allows Stone to pull a legal maneuver that wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't been manipulated into his action in the first place.
- Foil: Gold was explicitly designed to embody everything the relentlessly honorable Stone despised. (This is why he disappeared after Stone was replaced by McCoy: not enough of a contrast.)
- Manipulative Bastard
- Smug Snake
Leon ChilesA lawyer who tends to use affirmative defenses (e.g., "My client did it, but for a good reason.") Notable for having one of the best records of all the show's recurring defense attorneys; his clients were only convicted twice, and one of those was then appealed, with the outcome undetermined at the end of the episode. He appeared in 4 episodes in seasons 10-15.
- Asshole Victim: Chiles argued this at least three times. It worked when he argued that a former Black Panther was justified in shooting a cop because the cops had oppressed the black community, and when he argued that the father of a dead soldier was justified in killing a guy because the other guy insulted the military in front of him. It failed when he argued that a basketball player was justified in killing a guy who was harassing him and his family.
- Malcolm Xerox: In 'Burn Baby Burn', he turned in to this in order to argue that a former Black Panther who killed a white cop shouldn't be jailed.
Randall 'Randy' J. Dworkin, Esq.A jovial and goofy lawyer, nicknamed 'Squirt', who at first disgusts McCoy but eventually earns his respect. His perpetual irreverence irritates judges, and his creative defenses often frustrate the prosecution. Only appears in 3 episodes in seasons 13-16, but memorable nevertheless.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer
- Informed Ability: We never actually see him win a case, although he once managed to plea bargain a murder-2 charge down to manslaughter-1 with a maximum sentence
- Large Ham
- Obfuscating Stupidity
- Worthy Opponent: After McCoy learns that his Bunny Ears tendencies are an obfuscation for genuine legal talent. He warns his ADA not to dismiss him. During one trial they have a serious ex parte moment. They share a drink, each admitting they feel terrible about the trial. McCoy because he hates that he's winning using evidence produced by torture, Dworkin because he's defending a man who's vile trash and glad that he's losing.
Neil GortonJamie Ross's ex-husband. He started off only defending the innocent, but eventually attracted the attention of a client who was guilty of violent crimes but had very deep pockets. Gorton and Ross got the man acquitted, and he went on to commit more crimes. Gorton is willing to do anything to win a trial, including exploiting the terms of his divorce sesttlement with Ross (which requires them to spend a set number of hours with their children; Gorton, who runs a big law firm, can delegate to his assistants so he can spend the requisite number of hours at home, but Ross, working for the government, can't, putting her custody of the children at risk). Appeared in 3 episodes in season 7.
Rodney FallonA defense attorney who often advocates for the downtrodden. Appears in 3 episodes in seasons 14-15.
- Butt Monkey: Turns into this in 'Vendetta.' Not only is he repeatedly humiliated by McCoy, but his client abducts him and ties him up in a bathroom. There's also the time his deranged client fires him in 'Locomotion' over his own vehement objections.
Marcus WollA stereotypically oily defense attorney, who's an ex-DA. Turned out be more corrupt than anyone suspected.
Judge Gary FeldmanA judge with political ambitions, who wanted to base his campaign around targeting drunk drivers. He collaborated with McCoy to hide evidence in a case involving a drunk driver that killed three people. When McCoy backed out of the scheme, he vowed revenge and went on to run against Adam Schiff. He was backed by Carl Anderton ('Burned'), who wanted revenge on Schiff for his own reasons. Appeared 3 times in Season 8.
Judge Morris Torledsky
- "Your client is getting dangerously close to the textbook definition of chutzpah!"
Judge William WrightA judge whose defining characteristic was disagreeing with McCoy on everything. Notable appearances included setting aside a 'guilty' verdict for three boys convicted of raping a mentally disabled girl ('Damaged') and setting aside a 'guilty' verdict when McCoy convicted a gun dealer of murder due to his unethical business practices ('Gunshow'). In his final episode, 'Dissonance,' Nora Lewin threatened that she would destroy him unless he judged the trial fairly. Appeared in 4 episodes between seasons 8-11.
- Depending on the Writer Whether Wright is reasonable or not varies drastically depending on the episode that he's in. In "Gunshow", the episode takes his side, indicating that the gun dealer, while evil, hadn't actually violated any law, and that McCoy was basically engaging in prosecutorial misconduct by trying to get him convicted for being a bad guy, not for violating any actual statute. In "Damaged", on the other hand, Wright is shown as a heartless and stupid jerk who refuses to even consider that the mentally disabled girl could have been raped, even though McCoy provided ample evidence that the girl was incapable of consenting to sex.
- "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Wright's reasoning for why he wouldn't reverse his decision to set aside the guilty verdict in "Damaged".
- What the Hell, Hero?: Calls out the jury for convicting the three boys of rape.
Carl AndertonAn old friend of Adam Schiff's. When his son was arrested for murder, he refused to allow his grandson to plea to an insanity defense, even though it would get his son better treatment. It turned out that this was because his grandson's insanity was genetic, and if it were known that his son had the illness, people would suspect him of having it too. When Schiff refused to allow him to sacrifice his son, Anderton sponsored Judge Feldman in the forthcoming election for District Attorney. Appeared 3 times in season 8. Played by Robert Vaughn.
Governor Donald ShalvoyAt first an ally of McCoy, he turned against the district attorney when McCoy said he'd reveal that Shalvoy was seeing prostitutes as part of a case. Shalvoy then sabotaged the case and began trying to destroy McCoy, going so far as to sponsor someone to run against him in the next elections. He appeared 4 times in seasons 18-19.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder (he tries to bring down former ally Jack McCoy after the latter attempts to expose his use of prostitutes, he then offers to take down new ally Joe Chappel, McCoy's rival for District Attorney, to bribe McCoy, and then sells out his own WIFE to keep from losing his position as Governor)
- Corrupt Politician
- No Celebrities Were Harmed (he started out as a thinly vieled Expy of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, but in subsequent appearances grew into his own character)
- Our Presidents Are Different: President Corrupt and President Playboy.
- Smug Snake