Sunday, January 24, 2010

You Be the L.A. County District Attorney and Judge …

Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate

When T & T last examined the curious case of Roman Polanski, our fugitive from justice was busy gathering up $4.5 million bail so he could hang out at his Swiss chalet in Gstaad as opposed to hanging out in a Swiss jail. The money was collected and turned over to the Swiss authorities, the monitoring systems put into place on Polanski’s property, and he enjoyed the Christmas holiday in the comforts of his vacation home in the arms of his wife Emmanuelle Seigner and the couple’s two children, Morgane and Elvis.
Thus far the diminutive director has honored the terms of his bail and hasn’t yet escaped back into France in the trunk of a car or a suitcase.
The case against him, however, trudges its way through the Los Angeles County Superior Court system.
A state appeals panel suggested that Polanski should be sentenced in absentia, but Superior Court Judge Peter Espinosa is not bound by that recommendation. Nor does he accept it: in the Los Angeles Times, Espinosa is quoted “I have made it clear he needs to surrender.”
Meanwhile, Polanski’s attorneys are still working the judicial misconduct case. Polanski alleges that a now-deceased judge, Laurence Rittenband, was going to back out of what Polanski and his attorneys felt was a “ sentencing deal”: Polanski was handed over for a 90-day psychological evaluation at Chino and was to return to court for official sentencing.

The evaluation at Chino, which took only 42 days, recommended Polanski be sentenced to probation for the one charge he’d plead guilty to, that of unlawful intercourse with a minor, in order to allow his victim to maintain some semblance of privacy. Evaluators did not believe Polanski was a pedophile nor was he likely to re-offend. However, Polanski’s lawyers believed that the judge was going to slap their client with extra jail time and ultimately deportation. Rather than take his chances, Polanski left the United States before sentencing, thus leaving the sentencing part of the case open and adding a new crime: unlawful flight from justice.

There is legal precedent for the LA County Courts’ position. The fugitive dis-entitlement doctrine is a 19
th century legal principle barring a fugitive from calling on the help of the court while giving a middle finger to said court’s authority. The 2nd District Court of Appeal did uphold Judge Espinosa’s application of the principle back in December, but also urged that sentencing in absentia or other resolution that would address the misconduct claims was acceptable.

Polanski’s victim still wants the whole thing dropped and claims the DA’s office didn’t inform her that they were looking to arrest Polanski at all. The DA’s office has evidence to the contrary, that they did inform Samantha, so Judge Espinosa also rejected her attorneys’ request that prosecutors drop the extradition proceedings against Polanski. Recall that Samantha’s full name was not publicly known until she initiated a lawsuit against Polanski in the late 1980s when she was an adult.
Polanski has not stayed out of the media spotlight during his house arrest. In December, a photo of Polanski peering outside of his chalet was published; an image the paper felt was an accurate depiction of Polanski’s life under house arrest. Polanski feels those photos are an invasion of his privacy, and he and his wife have initiated lawsuits against a total of four French publications. At odds are photos taken of the couple’s children in a French airport, though when published the children’s faces were blurred out, a common practice in France.

The paper that published the “Polanski at window” photo,
Le Journal du Dimanche, has argued that the photo was a legitimate news photograph. “Can you seriously claim in this context that if you stand at the window you won't get your picture taken?" argued attorney Christophe Bigot. The newspaper is asking the court to impel Polanski to pay its legal fees.
The magazine that published the photos of the children argued those photos were taken in a public place, and reminded the court of the blurring out of the kids’ faces.

Polanski claims to have an intense fear of the media, dating back to Sharon Tate’s murder. The rumors shortly after the murders included allegations of the victims’ bizarre drug-fueled lifestyles and that somehow their own actions prompted the butchering.

And finally, Swiss authorities haven’t yet decided if they will turn Polanski over to the United States at all.

Today, you get to be the D.A. and the judge. What do you think is at the heart of this issue? Do you think there was judicial misconduct back with Judge
Rittenband? Do you think Rittenband was within his rights as a judge to sentence Polanski to more time and the eventual deportation? What do you think Rittenband was going to do?

Is the rape case a moot issue? Should it be? Is the issue the unlawful flight from justice? Should Polanski be extradited and accept the will of the court? What is the worst you think should happen to him?

If I’m asking for your opinion, I’ll give you mine. I think Rittenband was going to send Polanski back to Chino to do a full 90 days. I think he was then going to deport Polanski. Remember, what Rittenband did was not the “official” sentence: it was an evaluation to see how sentencing should proceed. He expected this to take 90 days. I bet he believed that Polanski would be brought to court fresh off the Department of Corrections bus, and did not at all think Polanski would charm his way out of his evaluation so quickly. I wonder how many Department of Corrections employees were eventually cast in a Polanski film; it's rumored he made such promises to Chino employees.

How do I feel the case should be resolved? Polanski needs to be extradited and do that additional time. But let’s give the guy a break, a day for a day. He’s got 48 days left; for every day he behaves, take a day off, just like most California inmates get. So he gets 24 days in jail to close the rape case.

He also faces flight from justice charges (felony offense), and because he left the United States, one could argue both state of California and federal charges could be filed. The maximum time for the federal offense is five years in prison and a fine; the state offense is a bit lighter—a $5K fine and up to a year in county jail or state prison. I’ve not read anything about federal charges in the works. Give him the maximum state charges—one year, a day for a day, served concurrently with the “resolve the rape” time.

So, six months in custody and pay a fine. Drop the deportation stuff; chances are he will do that anyway.

How would you proceed?


Anonymous said...

The only undeniable, provable "deal" was the one in the plea agreement, namely, that at sentencing, the DA would move to dismiss the 5 remaining pending charges. If Polanski wants to say he relied on some other deal mentioned in chambers, Polanski should sue his attorney for letting him believe anything but the deal in the transcript was binding on anyone.

Since Polanski blew off the sentencing, those 5 charges should still be pending. If he wants to, he can withdraw his plea and go to trial on all 6 charges and take his chances. Otherwise, he should be sentenced on what he pled to, plus sentencing on the failure to appear, and do his time just like the non-celebrities do.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who believes this case should be dropped should read the initial Grand Jury testimonies. He is despicable.

Anonymous said...

He needs to be punished for having skipped out of the country. After he fled, he gave a television interview in Europe saying that the girl wanted it and that she seduced him. He has no morals and doesn't get it.

The guy has had a good life since fleeing and it's time he paid the price.