EXCLUSIVE: Almost 40 years after he fled the U.S. to escape a long jail stretch for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, Roman Polanski may be one step closer to coming back to Los Angeles to face justice on his own terms. It’s a Hail Mary step that the Oscar-winning director, now 83, only intends to take if certain old testimony becomes public and he is assured he won’t end up behind bars again, Deadline has learned.
“Once we unseal the secret transcript and the Court agrees to follow the Polish decision, Roman will return to be sentenced to probation and end the issue of an outstanding arrest warrant,” Polanski attorney Harland Braun told Deadline today, regarding how this could all play out if an upcoming hearing in front of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon goes their way.
After a receiving a letter from Braun last week seeking to potentially reset the case’s parameters, Gordon has set a hearing for February 24 to address a request to unseal 2010 testimony by former prosecutor Roger Gunson. That testimony is said to detail a judicial promise from the late 1970s that would have seen the controversial The Pianist director spend 90 days in a psychiatric evaluation.
It was the apparent breaking of that promise by now-deceased Judge Laurence Rittenband that caused Polanski to flee American justice in 1978, and he has fought several extradition attempts ever since. Most recently that included a December 2016 decision by Poland’s Supreme Court to uphold a previous ruling by a lower court in the country of Polanski’s birth that rejected a 2015 extradition request by the U.S.
Polanski holds dual citizenship in Poland and France, where he currently lives. The latter nation prohibits extradition of its citizens, while Polish law does not.
Tellingly, Braun now also wants unsealed the transcript of a conversation he had Gordon and L.A. County Deputy D.A. Michele Hanisee on November 23, 2016 “concerning possible litigation in the …case” before the Polish high court ruling was made.
“The sworn testimony of Mr. Gunson taken together with the Polish decisions raise the question of whether the principle of comity should command or persuade the Court to follow the findings of the Polish court,” Braun wrote in his February 6 letter to Gordon that kicked off the latest chapter in the Polanski saga. The letter also pulls the current L.A. County D.A.’s office in the matter, inferring that Jackie Lacey’s team confirmed the 90-day deal from 1977. “The principle of comity may also be strengthened by the participation of our DA in the Polish litigation,” Braun adds. “Our DA specifically answered factual, procedural, and sentencing questions propounded by Judge Mazur in Krakow.”
Lacey’s office did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment on Hanisee’s participation in that 2016 meeting, or the D.A.’s take on the Polanski matter.
Polanski’s current lawyer has not been so reticent.
“I believe there is no current excuse or justification for keeping DDA Roger Gunson’s sworn testimony under seal,” the Braun & Braun LLP lawyer says in his letter. “Therefore, on behalf of Roman Polanski, I request that it be unsealed and that I be allowed to make a copy to assist me in the preparation of possible motions.”
Convicted on five charges stemming from having sex with 13-year-old Samantha Gailey on March 10, 1977, Polanski made a deal that saw him plead guilty to having unlawful sex intercourse with a minor. The Chinatown director initially spent 42 days in the California Institute For Men and was released, with the deal to include time served and probation.
All that changed when, after feeling Rittenband had thrown the plea deal in the trash and intended to see him in jail for up to 50 years, Polanski made tracks just before sentencing in 1978. For several years now, Polanski’s victim has said she believes that the director’s exile has been punishment enough; she and Polanski came to a financial settlement of around $500,000 in the mid-1990s.
Besides the Polish matter of 2015 and 2016, the last decade also saw a prolonged and botched case to get Polanski to face American justice in 2009 and 2010, back when Steve Cooley was still L.A. County D.A. In 2014, Alan Dershowitz unsuccessfully attempted to have the Polanski case dropped for the director.
Now, with a new lawyer in Polanski’s corner, it could start up all over again.
Deadline’s Anita Busch contributed to this report.