Elizabeth Donnelly

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Elizabeth Donnelly
Law & Order character
Elizabeth Donnelly - SVU.png
Light as Elizabeth Donnelly in season 8, episode "Haystack".
First appearance "Guilt"
Last appearance "Behave"
Portrayed by Judith Light
Time on show 2002–2010
Seasons 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Credited appearances 25 episodes (total)
Succeeded by Michael Cutter
(Bureau Chief ADA)
Family Unnamed husband (Husband) "Persona"

Elizabeth "Liz" Donnelly is a fictional character on the NBC crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, portrayed by Judith Light.[1]

Character overview[edit]

Although originally appearing as a Bureau Chief ADA, Donnelly is elevated to judgeship during season 7. While working for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, however, she serves as the supervisor of Alexandra Cabot and her successor, Casey Novak; Donnelly has presided over numerous cases prosecuted by Casey Novak, as well as a case prosecuted by Novak's successor, Kim Greylek, in the episode "Persona".

Notable episodes[edit]

Although a judge, Donnelly represents both Casey Novak and Det. Elliot Stabler in the season 8 episode "Haystack", when a man suing for custody of his child sues them for alleged conspiracy and assault. The suits are dropped, however, following the man's arrest on kidnapping charges.

In the season 7 episode "Gone", Donnelly's office is bugged, resulting in a witness being abducted and murdered. When Novak and SVU detectives are unable to link the homicide to the bugging, Donnelly is reluctantly forced to dismiss the case, due to lack of witness testimony, though it is later discovered that the defendants indeed bribed a court officer to bug her office. Donnelly helps to catch the officer responsible and interrogate her.

In the season 9 episode "Cold", Donnelly calls Casey Novak to her office and informed her that she would be censured and suspended for possibly a year or more for violating Brady rules. Novak asks her what she should do, and Donnelly replies, "Something else."

In the season 10 episode "Persona", Donnelly takes a leave of absence from her role as a judge to act as prosecutor on a cold case she was involved with in the 1970s, when a battered woman (Brenda Blethyn) murdered her husband. She admits to Det. Olivia Benson that she was somewhat responsible for the woman absconding from custody and therefore took on the case due to "unfinished business." Her role in the escape leads to mishaps in the justice system being termed "doing a Donnelly" for many years to follow. This episode calls attention to the difficulty Donnelly experiences as a woman working in the justice system. The woman claims to have been raped, but Donnelly believes she is just manipulative and was using it as an excuse to get away with murder since she had fled Donnelly when she had asked for a meeting to discuss a plea deal. When the woman gets on the stand and tells her story, Donnelly confronts her with her escape and she reveals why she ran: she was pregnant from her rape and wanted an abortion but couldn't get it in prison. She had approached Donnelly with the intention of agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for being allowed to get the abortion, but lost her nerve when she saw how strong of a woman Donnelly was and believed she was weak. This revelation stuns Donnelly and clearly deeply affects her. The woman is found not guilty of the murder but guilty of the escape and Donnelly decides to ask for probation at sentencing as the case reminded her of why she became a lawyer in the first place: to help the victims.

In the season 10 finale episode "Zebras", Donnelly is poisoned by a syringe (containing potassium chloride, the chemical used for lethal injections) that CSU Tech Intern Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher) had placed on a chair in her home, resulting in her hospitalization. He did this because after he made a mistake that cost the prosecution the case (which Donnelly publicly and loudly berated him for), he lost it. By the end of the episode, she survives and recovers and is seen trying later cases.

Elizabeth Donnelly has appeared in 25 episodes of SVU (13 as a Judge; 12 as a Bureau Chief ADA).


Light appeared in a total of 25 episodes of SVU; 12 episodes as Bureau Chief ADA (more than any other character in the Bureau Chief capacity), and 13 episodes as Judge Donnelly.[2]

Seasons Years Episodes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
3 2002
4 2002–03
6 2004
7 2005–06
8 2007
9 2008
10 2008–09
11 2010
12 2010
Seasons Years 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25


  1. ^ Bobbin, Jay. Light Takes a Shine to NBC's 'Law & Order' Tribune Media Services. May 15, 2002
  2. ^ Elizabeth Donnelly — IMDb