LONDON — The jury rested on Thursday in Roman Polanski’s libel case against the publisher of Vanity Fair over an article alleging he tried to seduce a model in a restaurant while on his way to the funeral of his murdered wife in 1969.
The jurors must decide whether the magazine undermined its case by getting the timing of events wrong — it now claims that the alleged incident in Elaine’s restaurant in Manhattan happened some weeks later than published — or whether Polanski has a reputation left to defend.
The helmer gave evidence to the London court this week by video link from Paris, where he has lived since fleeing the U.S. in 1977 to avoid charges of sex with a 13-year-old girl. If he returns to the U.K. he would face extradition to the States.
Polanski attested to his open marriage with Tate and having sex within four weeks of her murder.
However, in summing up the case, Judge David Eady reminded the jury: “We are not a court of morals. We are not here to judge Mr. Polanski’s personal lifestyle.”
Earlier, lawyers on both sides presented final arguments concentrating heavily on the helmer’s lifestyle.
The lawyer for publishers Conde Nast, Thomas Shields, referred to “Roman’s law of morality.”
“This law, I suggest to you, knows of no rules, only violations of civilized conduct which it appears can be readily abused,” Shields told the court, as Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Sharon Tate’s sister Debra looked on.
He sought to show Polanski was capable of acting with the “callous indifference” to his wife’s memory that the article implied.
John Kelsey-Fry, Polanski’s lawyer, said the case was not about the director’s crime of 1977 but about the truth.
And, recalling evidence given by actress Mia Farrow, who was with Polanski on the evening the alleged incident took place, he said his client had been overwhelmed with grief.
He sought to undermine the accuracy of the article, based on an anecdote from Harper’s magazine editor Louis Lapham. Kelsey-Fry asked why the woman Polanski allegedly romanced at the restaurant, Beatte Telle, thought to live in Norway, had not been called to give testimony by Vanity Fair.
Eady told the jurors that £200,000 ($350,000) would be the “maximum ceiling” of any damages awarded in a libel trial, and that only for the most serious cases.
A verdict is possible on Friday.