John James "Jack" McCoy is a fictional character in the television drama Law & Order, created by Michael Chernuchin and played by Sam Waterston since 1994. He is the second-longest tenured character on the show, after Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). On January 28, 2009, McCoy's character ended the longest run of a character appearing in consecutive episodes. He was not featured in the episode "Lucky Stiff". His streak ended with 333 uninterrupted appearances since the first episode of the fifth season in 1994.
Jack McCoy brings 24 years of experience with him as he is appointed Executive Assistant District Attorney by Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) in the Season 5 premiere episode "Second Opinion". He quickly establishes himself as a more unconventional, ruthless litigator than his predecessor, Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty); he often bends — and sometimes breaks — trial rules to get convictions, finds tenuous rationales for charging defendants with crimes when the original charges fail to stick, charges innocent people to frighten them into testifying against others, and makes passionate closing arguments. McCoy is more than once found in contempt of court for such behavior, and his tactics occasionally incur negative publicity for the DA's office. McCoy's legal philosophy can be summed up by the statement "We'll put the whole damn system on trial!" His underlying motivation, however, is not, he maintains, corruption, but a sincere desire to see justice done. To that end, McCoy has gone after defendants accused of perverting the justice system to arrange wrongful convictions with just as much determination as his more mundane cases. Such aggressive actions in the courts have earned him the nickname "Hang 'em High McCoy". He has subsequently developed a reputation with both colleagues and rival attorneys, once being referred to as "the top of the legal food chain" by a rival attorney during a case.
Following the 17th season (2006–2007), Jack McCoy became District Attorney, taking over from Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson). McCoy's appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on November 13, 2007, marked his first appearance in the Law & Order universe as District Attorney. The replacement for his former position is Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), a prosecutor with a penchant for recklessness not unlike McCoy's own in his younger days. This occasionally presents political difficulties for the new District Attorney. More than once, McCoy berates Cutter for reckless conduct, in the same manner as he was berated by district attorneys when he was Assistant District Attorney.
In the season 19 episode "Lucky Stiff", McCoy begins his election campaign for New York County District Attorney after serving the last season and a half as interim DA. In the episode "Rapture", his opponent for the office is shown for the first time. In season 19 episode "Promote This", it is revealed that in 1991 his wife Ellen (whom he was divorcing) unknowingly employed an undocumented immigrant as a nanny. This causes McCoy political havoc during a murder case where the motive was racism against illegal immigrant of Hispanic descent. In the episode "Skate or Die", the place where his final campaign fundraiser would be held is discovered by the organizers to be owned by a man who served a 20-year prison sentence for racketeering. Eventually, the final campaign fundraiser would be held at a Chinese seafood restaurant with a kosher section. In the last episode of season 19, "The Drowned and the Saved", McCoy's opponent's patron resigns due to scandal on the eve of the election, giving him good prospects for victory.
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