Judge Skeptical of Roman Polanski’s Latest Bid to End 40-Year-Old Rape Case

Roman Polanski extradition
Jarek Praszkiewicz/AP/REX/Shutterstock

An L.A. Superior Court judge heard extensive arguments Monday from an attorney for Roman Polanski, but seemed skeptical of the fugitive director’s latest bid to dispose of his 40-year-old rape case.

Polanski’s attorney, Harland Braun, argued that a December 2016 decision by the Polish Supreme Court not to extradite him should spur U.S. authorities to bring the case to a close.

“He’s an 83-year-old man with a 40-year-old case he wants to wrap up,” Braun argued to Judge Scott Gordon. Braun said that Polanski is “willing to come in” for a sentencing, but first wants assurances that he will not face additional time in custody.

After hearing about 45 minutes of argument, Gordon said he would consider the matter and issue a written ruling. However, the judge also noted that many of the issues have been litigated before.

Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to raping a 13-year-old girl, and was held for 42 days for a psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison. He fled to France before his sentencing.

Braun urged Gordon to honor the promise allegedly made by the original judge, Laurence Rittenband, not to sentence Polanski to additional time beyond the psychiatric evaluation. Gordon, however, noted that the 1977 plea agreement did not contain a promise of a particular sentence.

Gordon also repeatedly questioned Braun’s argument that the Polish Supreme Court’s decision should have a bearing on a California court.

Michele Hanisee, a deputy district attorney, argued that Gordon should not allow a “wealthy celebrity” to negotiate his sentence from afar.

“Mr. Polanski is asking this court to completely abandon all legal principles and give him special treatment,” Hanisee said.

The L.A. County District Attorney’s office has repeatedly attempted to extradite Polanski without success. Polanski is a French-Polish citizen, and not subject to extradition in France. In 2009 and 2010, Polanski spent nearly a year in jail and under house arrest in Switzerland before that country also declined to extradite him.

Polanski’s attorneys have also spent years attempting to resolve the case without further punishment, which would allow the director to travel freely. His victim, Samantha Geimer, has also urged the L.A. court to dismiss the case.

Polanski’s attorneys have also argued that he was the victim of judicial misconduct. They contend that Rittenband reneged on his promise to sentence Polanski to no further time in custody, forcing Polanski to flee. A 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” added fuel to that claim, arguing that Rittenband reacted to public pressure for a stiffer sentence.

The district attorney’s office has maintained that Polanski must first submit to U.S. jurisdiction before the case can be resolved. In 2009, Judge Peter Espinoza agreed, finding that Polanski’s fugitive status barred him from seeking to dismiss the case.

“The defendant is not entitled to request any affirmative relief from this court, as he remains at large,” Espinoza ruled.

In a response to Braun’s motion, prosecutors accused him to rehashing old ground and seeking to “forum-shop” for a better outcome.

“The defendant has made these motions in the past,” Hanisee wrote. “He is bound by rulings made by at least three prior judges.”

Polanski directed such classics as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown,” and won an Oscar for best director for “The Pianist.” His attorneys say that he has been forced to turn down work outside of France due to the outstanding warrant for his arrest.