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Roman Polanski Case Reconsidered With ‘Fresh Eyes’ by New Los Angeles D.A.

roman polanski
Artur Widak/Getty Images

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has agreed to unseal a transcript that has long been sought by Roman Polanski, as prosecutors are reconsidering the director’s 45-year-old rape case with “fresh eyes.”

Gascón announced Tuesday that the office had reversed its position and would no longer object to unsealing a transcript of a 2010 examination of Roger Gunson, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Polanski for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Polanski, now 88, pleaded guilty but fled to France before sentencing. He has lived abroad ever since. Numerous efforts by previous D.A.’s to extradite him have failed, as have Polanski’s efforts to resolve the case without first returning to the U.S.

The announcement indicated that Gascón, who was elected in 2020, is breaking with the approach of his predecessors. His office also indicated a willingness to take a new look at the case, which Polanski and his supporters have long claimed was tainted by prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

“The suspicion has been around this case for 40 years,” Tiffiny Blacknell, a special adviser to Gascón, told Variety in an interview. “Many people are suspicious that something untoward occurred. We share that curiosity and that concern.”

Polanski’s lawyer, Harland Braun, has previously argued that the Gunson transcript would substantiate Polanski’s claim of misconduct against Judge Laurence Rittenband. Braun’s request to have it unsealed was denied by an L.A. Superior Court judge in 2017, along with his requests to dismiss the case and to have Polanski sentenced in absentia. Similar efforts to unseal the transcript and resolve the case were also denied in 2010.

The latest activity on the case began last fall, when two book authors — William Rempel and Sam Wasson — petitioned the court to unseal the transcript on First Amendment grounds. The D.A.’s office initially opposed the release and a judge denied the request. Rempel and Wasson are now pursuing an appeal.

Gunson was examined behind closed doors for three days in 2010, upon a request from Polanski’s then-attorney, who was seeking to expose misconduct. Much of the contents of his testimony has already been made public in a defense motion in 2010, based on notes of the examination taken by Polanski’s lawyer. Gunson is said to have alleged that Rittenband engaged in misconduct and that Gunson’s supervisors prevented him from moving to disqualify the judge from the case. Gunson also appeared in “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” the 2008 documentary that first reopened questions about the handling of the case.

In a statement, Gascón said his decision to allow the transcript’s release was influenced by Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, who has sought for years to have the case dismissed. Gascón’s office released a letter it had received from Geimer on June 20, in which she asked that the transcript be unsealed and that the office “take a fresh look” at the case.

“I believe it is in the public interest not to allow the misconduct of the court to remain hidden,” Geimer wrote. “I believe as the victim in this case I deserve to know the whole truth.”

Blacknell, Gascón’s adviser, said that Geimer had been “righteous” in seeking to learn more about the case. She also said the office does not know what is in the transcript and will wait to see it before deciding any next steps.

“We’re looking at things with fresh eyes with a new administration,” Blacknell said. “We haven’t concluded anything without reviewing the contents of that conditional examination.”

In the statement, Gascón referred to the case as “one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history.”

“After careful consideration of the victim’s wishes, the unique and extraordinary circumstances that led to his conditional exam and my commitment to transparency and accountability for all in the justice system, my office has determined it to be in the interest of justice to agree to the unsealing of these transcripts,” Gascón said.

Whether that fresh approach will lead to resolution of the case — which would allow Polanski to travel freely to the U.S. — is another question.

In the past, the D.A.’s office has adamantly objected to the idea of dismissing the case so long as Polanski is overseas, under the doctrine of “fugitive disentitlement.” In a filing to the appellate court on Tuesday, the office reiterated that “the People have remained steadfast in the determination to hold Defendant Polanski accountable.”

“Polanski remains a fugitive from justice and should surrender himself to the Los Angeles County Superior Court to be sentenced,” the office said in a statement.

The appeals court has yet to rule on the authors’ request, but there is now no opposition to unsealing the transcript.

In an interview on Tuesday, Braun called the release of the transcript “a good step.”

“I think Gascón looked at it and said, ‘This is ridiculous,'” Braun said. “He’s taken a very principled position that this is a matter of public record.”

Braun said he had had no conversations with the D.A.’s office about resolving the case since Gascón was elected. He also said that he could file a new motion to dismiss after the transcript is unsealed, but that ultimately it would be up to a judge — not the D.A. — to decide the matter.

“There’s something new — something called Zoom,” Braun said. “He could Zoom from Paris and appear.”

Attorneys John Washington and Susan Seager, who represent Rempel and Wasson, issued a statement calling the D.A.’s reversal on the transcript “a significant victory for the public and the press.” They also said their case is about the First Amendment and the public’s right of access to court records and that they take no position on the potential resolution of the Polanski case.