It’s the first day of spring, but nothing seemed to be blooming today for Roman Polanski in Los Angeles Superior Court. That’s where lawyers for the Oscar winner are attempting to plant seeds that would see Polanksi return to the U.S. after 39 years on the run from American justice as long as he is assured he won’t get more jail time.
“The people do not think it is in the best interests of justice to give a wealthy celebrity, and that is what Mr. Polanski is, different treatment than any other fugitive,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee told Judge Scott Gordon on Monday morning. “The defendant has to be here to make any request to the court,” she added.
“Mr. Polanski is asking the court to completely abandon all legal precedent,” Hanisee said. “If Mr. Polanski wants to litigate this matter …he needs to surrender to this jurisdiction.”.
After hearing from both the Hanisee and Polanski’s lawyer Harland Braun on Monday, the seemingly skeptical judge said he would take the matter “under consideration” and issue a decision of some sort within 90-days. Earlier in the hearing, Gordon indicated he may want to see “a full sentencing hearing with all parties present” – which would obviously include the 83-year-old Polanski.
An often circular and repetitive session touching on topics of international law, Poland’s current political climate, Polanski’s mental state (then and now), Red Warrants and the old boys network in L.A. in the 1970s, today’s well-attended hearing was always a long bet for the Rosemary’s Baby director.
Coming out of the last several weeks of new filings in the case of Polanski raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, the Chinatown helmer’s attorney was seeking a ruling that would essentially declare his client exempt from jail time if he came back to America. To that end, Polanski, who turned down a similar deal in 1997 because the courtroom would be open to the media, was not in court today.
“Mr. Polanski was promised a certain sentence and I, like many Americans, feel if someone is promised a certain sentence, that is his sentence,” Braun told the court Monday, trying to get that assurance that his client had served enough time, including more than 300 days in Swiss custody better than five years ago. “I think the court should be bound by the promise.”
Rejecting that notion, Hanisee also disagreed with how much time Polanski had actually served to begin with. “I think Mr. Braun’s calculations are inaccurate,” she told the judge curtly.
Despite rumors of some new deal, as recently as March 17, the two sides were at loggerheads on the matter, with LA D.A. Jackie Lacey’s office opposed to Polanski’s latest aims. “The defendant is, once again, trying to dictate the terms of his return without risk to himself,” said Hanisee in paperwork filed March 16.
“Mr. Polanski is only asking the Court to pledge it will obey the law,” responded Braun on St. Patrick’s Day.
“And, as an alternative, Mr. Polanski asks to be sentenced in absentia,” Braun added if the judge would not agree there was a deal in place in the late Seventies that Polanski would only serve a max of 90-days if he pleaded guilty on five charges stemming from having sex with then minor Samantha Gailey on March 10, 1977
Polanski did make that plea on August 8, 1977 and spent over 40-days in the California Institute For Men and was released, with the deal to include time served and probation.
However, upon hearing that the judge in the case had changed his mind and now wanted to see him behind bars for up to 50-years, Polanski headed out to LAX in mid-1978 and jumped on a plane to Europe, where he has lived and worked ever since. Polanski holds dual citizenship in Poland and France, where he currently primarily resides. France prohibits extradition of its citizens, while current Polish law does not.
With American officials more active in the issue since 2008, there has been a renewed effort to bring Polanski back to the U.S.A – all of them leaving eggs on prosecutors’ faces and filings. In addition to an unsuccessful attempt to extradite him from Poland in 2015 and 2016, the last 10-years also witnessed 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.
In more recent years, Gailey has said she now believes that the director’s exile from America and the heart of the movie business has been punishment enough. It should be noted that she and Polanski came to a financial settlement of around $500,000 in the mid-1990s.
“The crime he committed is indefensible,” said defense attorney Braun told the court, today of Polanski’s assault of the then barely a teenager. Among those in Judge Gordon’s courtroom on Monday was filmmaker Marina Zenovich, whose 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired reopened much of the case after a long legal lull. Emmy winner Zenovich also helmed a sequel in 2012’s Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out.