Sonya Paxton

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Sonya Paxton
Law & Order character
EADA Sonya Paxton.jpg
Christine Lahti as Sonya Paxton in "Sugar"
First appearance "Unstable"
Last appearance "Pursuit"
Portrayed by Christine Lahti
Time on show 2009–2011
Seasons 11, 12
Credited appearances 7 episodes (total)
Preceded by Alexandra Cabot (as ADA)
Succeeded by Alexandra Cabot (as ADA)
David Haden (as EADA)

Sonya Paxton is a fictional character on the NBC crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, portrayed by Golden Globe, Emmy, and Academy Award winning actress and director Christine Lahti.

Character overview[edit]

Paxton works in the Manhattan District Attorney's office under the authority of Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston; Law & Order), as an Executive Assistant District Attorney. A member of the DA's office for over 25 years, she has a black-and-white view of the law, and makes sure all procedures are handled " by the book." Having previously worked in the Appeals Bureau, she was the first prosecutor to get a capital conviction in New York when the then newly elected Governor George Pataki brought back the death penalty in 1995.[1] As opposed to other female executives, such as Elizabeth Donnelly,[2] she was permitted to work as a Homicide ADA in the 1980s.[1]

Character within SVU[edit]

Sonya Paxton is introduced in the eleventh season premiere of SVU, "Unstable", as the unit's new Assistant District Attorney, temporarily replacing ADA Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) for four episodes. An Executive, Paxton is sent to 'clean the house' in the 'he-said, she-said unit' due to too many convictions being overturned. However, things start out rocky as she butts heads with the SVU team, particularly Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), with whom she gets into a heated argument after Paxton calls a suspect's lawyer after he declines his right to counsel twice.[3]

In the third episode, "Solitary", Stabler is thrown off a roof by a cleared suspect, Callum Donovan (Stephen Rea), after attempting to apologize to him. Stabler is close to assaulting Donovan in custody, until Paxton interrupts and confronts him. Stabler argues that all she wants is power and control, and compares her to the criminals he sees daily. Insulted and angry, Paxton slaps Stabler across the face. Later, prior to sentencing, Stabler asks Paxton if she could drop the charges against Donovan, as he feels that Donovan has gone through enough after serving 19 years in solitary confinement on a previous charge. Paxton declines, stating that, if Donovan is not punished, he will eventually hurt someone else. After Donovan is convicted of attempted murder for his attack on Stabler, Paxton arranges to have him moved out of solitary and into the general prison population to serve his sentence.[4]

In the fourth episode of the season, "Hammered", when a man murders a woman during an alcoholic blackout, the defense blames alcoholism for the murder during the trial. Intending to use a computer-generated video mockup of the crime, Paxton accidentally plays a version in which the defendant's face is superimposed onto the attacker. The following morning, she arrives 45 minutes late to a mistrial hearing, appearing distraught and blaming a "fender bender". Judge Barry Moredock (John Cullum) asks if she needs medical help, but the defendant points out that she is drunk. Moredock orders Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) to come with a breathalyzer, which reveals her blood alcohol level to be .082, causing a mistrial. The judge then orders Paxton to seek treatment, prompting her temporary departure. At the end of the episode, she returns to the SVU squad and apologizes to the team, stating that she intends to seek help and make amends to each and every one of them.[5]

Paxton later appears in the episode "Turmoil", meeting Cabot outside the courtroom and telling her to watch out for Benson and Stabler, because they are only loyal to each other.[6]

Paxton later returns from her alcohol rehabilitation to her position as Executive ADA, in "Gray", to prove to the District Attorney that she has not lost her 'winning ways'. She and Stabler have another heated argument in front of the squad when Stabler's daughter Kathleen illegally obtains a suspect's confidential disciplinary files.[7]

In the seventeenth episode, "Pursuit", she returns to SVU to help convict child molesters who have been caught out on TV show, Neighborhood Predator, hosted by Paxton's family friend, Alicia Harding (Debra Messing). Harding starts receiving death threats, which she believes are from the unidentified man who murdered her sister 16 years earlier, and calls Paxton, who served as lead ADA in the case. Paxton becomes too involved with the case, and she is murdered while investigating the identity of the killer. Prior to her death, she is able to obtain the killer's DNA by biting him, which ultimately helps solve the case. The murderer is convicted, and sentenced to death row for killing Paxton and 43 others.[8]


I love her gray tones even though she pretends to be very by the book black and white; I love how just, you know, the complex gray tones in her character. I love her vulnerabilities and her underbelly that is pretty well hidden until the third and fourth episodes.

Christine Lahti on what she likes most about Paxton[9]

Christine Lahti was originally slated to guest-star in a single four episode-arc as Executive ADA Sonya Paxton, in the eleventh season of the long-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, while producers found a permanent replacement for outgoing ADA Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March).[10][11] Lahti couldn't commit to a permanent role, since she resides in Chicago, while filming of SVU takes place in New York City. SVU executive producer Neal Baer revealed that, "She's [Paxton] from Appeals and she's tired of having rape cases overturned because of misidentifications. She's coming to clean things up."[12] She returns again in the eighth episode of that season to "clash" with Cabot.[9]

According to Lahti, Paxton was originally written as a control freak, "needing to always be right and prove others wrong" — but behind this, were Paxton's fears, insecurities, a low self-esteem and an alcohol problem.[13]

Lahti again returned to SVU for two episodes, in the series' twelfth season. In response to Lahti's return, Baer stated, "We're bringing back characters we love this season."[14] Lahti's character was written out of the series by way of death;[15] such is a rarity for those who work with the SVU team on the show, with only a few other characters encountering a similar fate, including CSU technician Ryan O'Halloran (Mike Doyle) in the tenth season, and Sergeant Mike Dodds (Andy Karl) in the seventeenth season.[16]


American television magazine, TV Guide described the character as an "overbearing", "nasty" alcoholic.[17] Myra Fleischer of the Washington Times labelled Lahti's character as a "bitchy alcoholic".[18]

WPIX described Paxton as an "ADA with a dark side" who has "serious control issues and several skeletons in her closet". On the day of the airing of Hammered, Lahti stated that Paxton is the person that "everyone's loving to hate", and that hopefully the viewer's perception of her would change after the episode, sympathizing with the character's drinking problem.[19]

Previously.TV, while noting the misleading representations of lawyers on television, commented on the realism of the Paxton-drunk storyline, contending that it "could happen" as alcoholism among lawyers is an issue."[20]

In an interview with, Lahti said she believed that her character struck a huge chord in the show, "...when those episodes were airing, everywhere I went, people came up to me and said how much they hate me", others approached Lahti and praised her, saying, "We love that you’re so mean to Stabler (Christopher Meloni). We’ve been waiting for someone to stand up to him."[21]


Lahti appeared in 7 episodes of SVU as Paxton, more than any other character in the Executive ADA capacity on SVU.[22]

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
11 2009
12 2010–11
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. ^ a b "Unstable". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 11. Episode 1. September 23, 2009. NBC. 
  2. ^ "Persona". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 10. Episode 8. November 25, 2008. NBC. 
  3. ^ "Sugar". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 11. Episode 2. September 30, 2009. NBC. 
  4. ^ "Solitary". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 11. Episode 3. October 7, 2010. NBC. 
  5. ^ "Hammered". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 11. Episode 4. October 14, 2009. NBC. 
  6. ^ "Turmoil". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 11. Episode 8. November 11, 2009. NBC. 
  7. ^ "Gray". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 12. Episode 9. November 17, 2010. NBC. 
  8. ^ "Pursuit". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 12. Episode 17. February 16, 2011. NBC. 
  9. ^ a b Gallagher, Brian (September 24, 2009). "Christine Lahti and Neal Baer Talk Law & Order: Special Victims Unit". MovieWeb. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  10. ^ O'Connor, Mickey (June 29, 2009). "SVU News: Mariska and Meloni Are In for Season 11, and So Is Christine Lahti". TV Guide. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  11. ^ Ausiello, Michael (June 29, 2009). "'SVU' scoop: Christine Lahti is the new ADA!". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  12. ^ Ausiello, Michael (June 29, 2010). "'SVU' exclusive: Chris and Mariska are staying". The Ausiello Files. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
  13. ^ Lahti, Christine (December 23, 2010). "Christine Lahti talks about her Law & Order SVU character Sonya Paxton". WolfFilmsLawandOrder. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  14. ^ Rudolph, Ileane (August 17, 2010). "Exclusive: Gloria Reuben Returns to SVU". Lions Gate Entertainment. Retrieved January 11, 2011. 
  15. ^ Nguyen, Hanh (February 17, 2011). "Christine Lahti The Doctor Is in (Again) at CBS". Retrieved March 8, 2017. 
  16. ^ Brown, Lillian (June 21, 2016). "'In the End, We're All Just Passing Through'". Medium. Retrieved March 8, 2017. 
  17. ^ Rudolph, Ileane (August 26, 2010). "Christine Lahti Returns to Law & Order: SVU". Lions Gate Entertainment. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Lawyers on television: The good, the bad, and the insulting (Myra Chack Fleischer for Communities at". Washington Times. December 22, 2011. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Christine Lahti Wants Equality Now". PIX 11 News. October 14, 2009. Retrieved May 19, 2012. 
  20. ^ Green, Stephanie (August 28, 2013). "I Object!". Previously.TV. Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  21. ^ "CHRISTINE LAHTI RETURNS TO "LAW & ORDER: SVU" STILL ITCHING FOR A FIGHT". November 17, 2010. Retrieved January 11, 2012. 
  22. ^ Sonya Paxton — IMDb