Category Archives: Roman Polanski

. . .and his encounter with a corrupt judiciary

How Roman Polanski got us kicked off a jury


UPDATE: We removed a couple of identifiers from the case from which we were excluded to preclude just the problem that lies at the heart of the story.

Not that we wanted to be kicked off, exactly.

In all of our nearly seven decades of life, we’ve never had the opportunity of serving on a jury, so when we received a summons and drove down to the local County Superior Court Tuesday morning for the first phase of jury selection, we found ourselves in a panel selected for voir dire in a criminal case.

Good, we thought. Having spent so many years reporting on the criminal justice, we were finally getting the opportunity to see its workings from the inside, in the very heart of the process, the secret deliberations with a group of fellow citizens which would decide both the fate of the defendant and, to some degree, the credibility of those who had brought him or her before the bar of justice.

Besides, we’ve been having a record heat wave for May, and welcomed the chance to spend a few days in an air-conditioned courtroom rather than our own non-air-conditioned little home.

We filed into the courtroom, filing every seat in the spectator’s section and the jury box as well and after the swearing in, the judge explained the basics of the case.

The defendant, it seems, was a man charged with raping by threat of force his own niece while she was 12 and 13 years old. There were other charges as well, including forcible oral copulation.

Before midday we went sent hope and told to return today for questioning to determine our suitability to sit in judgment.

It was last night when then sobering thought occurred that during the questioning process — something we were very familiar with, having observed it as a reporter on a dozen or so occasions — might provoke some answers that could prove inflammatory or prejudicial.

That’s because we had testified in a case involving a very famous suspect who had been facing some of the same charges before the victim refused to cooperate with the prosecution and testify, leaving the defendant to plead to lesser offense, so-called statutory rape of a 13-year-old.

People v Roman Raymonnd Polanski

The defendant was Roman Polanski, and during the course of the legal proceedings, we were summoned to the witness stand to refute a story by a German reporter claiming that Polanski had violated the terms of a pre-trial agreement that had allowed him to travel abroad to finish arrangements for a film he was scheduled to direct for Dino DiLaurentiis [who also testified, along with Bill Farr, a reporter for the Los Angles Times who had previously and famously done jail time rather than testify as to the source of a leak in another famous case, that of Charles Manson].

Our testimony at the time [1977] was widely reported, resulting in [among other things] a call from an ex-wife who had seen us on the evening news as we left the courtroom [cameras were allowed in California courts at the time].

Our role in the Polanski case resurfaced in 2008, with the release of the documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich, a film in which we are prominently featured, providing both background on the case as well as direct evidence of misconduct by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, who had called us into his chambers, complained that wives of his friends from the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club [the center of his social life] were complaining about the terms of the plea bargain. And then he dropped the bombshell: “Dick – tell me. What the hell should I do with Polanski ?”

Judges are supposed to reached decision based on facts produced through the legal process, statutes, and case law. One thing judges are barred from doing by the canons of their own profession is to seek advice from reporters on sentencing and disposition.

We threw up our hands, and said “Whoa, judge, that’s your decision,” earning a scowl and a curt dismissal.

We was only able to tell the story because the judge had died a dozen years earlier, releasing me from an agreement never to reveal anything we discussed in his chambers as long as he lived.

After we had learned of Rittenband’s death a few years before we were interviewed for the film, we had contacted Polanski’s attorney to recount the story and sent along an affidavit of the account, declaring its veracity under penalty of perjury. We were told we might be called to testify, because the director hoped to return tot he U.S. at some point to lay the matter to rest.

Polanski had spent time in a state prison undergoing testing to determine in he was a mentally disordered sex offender, a legal label that would have haunted him for life. But the prison psychiatrist and the Los Angeles County Probation Officer assigned to the case agreed that Polanski should serve no more time. . .but there were those darn wives at the Hillcrest, leading to the judge’s gross violation of judicial ethics and, perhaps of more serious statutes.

[For more about the case itself and our role in it, as well as the judge’s mob ties, see our previous posts.]

Back to Judge Hashimoto’s courtroom

The release of the documentary resulted in newspaper and magazine articles as well as reports in online media, both in the U.S. and abroad, in which we were mentioned, sometimes prominently, and they’re appear if any jury happened to Google “Richard Brenneman” and “Polanski”.

And so it was last night as we were about to drift off into sleep that we suddenly realized that questioning in front of our fellow would-be jurors might evoked the notorious words “Roman Polanski,” a named which has been harshly treated in stories often poorly written and riotously inaccurate accounts both in print and online [just search for “Polanski” and “rapist” and see what sort of bilge washes up].

Just the mention of his name, much less a detailed account of our own role in the case, might inflame the jury, we decided and prejudice them against the defendant, who was already facing highly inflammatory charges.

And so this morning, we interrupted the court clerk, who then instructed us to fill out a sheet of paper outlining just why we felt we had information important for the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney to know.

After an initial round of questioning of some of our fellow jurors, everyone but esnl was instructed to leave the courtroom. After they’d departed, the judge summarized the contents of my note [which mentioned that the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, European newspapers, and other media had covered our role the case as revealed in the film just as they had reported on our testimony three decades earlier.

We acknowledged that, indeed, such were the facts.

The judge then announced that he and the lawyers all agreed that I shouldn’t sit on the jury.

The defense attorney smiled as we left.

And so here we are, sent home to enjoy the heat because of Roman Polanski.

Ain’t it a kick in the pants?

esnl’s role in Polanski case erupts anew


Yep, the statements we presented to documentary filmmaker Maria Zenovich for her documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, has set off yet another legal furor that could end Roman Polanski’s four-decades-long California legal trails.

We have written extensively about the Polanski case, which we covered as a reporter for the late, great Santa Monica Evening Outlook, and in particular about the egregious and unlawful conduct of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, whose best friend was powerful mob lawyer and labor fixer Sidney R. Korshak, once named by the California Attorney General’s office as the most powerful link between the mob, organized labor, and the corporate world [Paris Hilton's grandpa retained him to solve labor problems at his hotel chain and lost out on a New Jersey gambling license because of it].

Not comes the latest via The Guardian:

Emails disclosed to the New York Times have revealed allegations of misconduct by a judge in the 1977 trial of film director Roman Polanski, when he was accused of the statutory rape of 13-year-old Samantha Gailey.

Larry P Fidlar, currently a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court, said that if Polanski were to return to the States for a hearing, it could well be ruled in his favour thanks to the misconduct of Laurence A Rittenband, the judge in the original case. Rittenband is alleged to have discussed the case with journalists as it was ongoing, and told lawyers the angle he wanted them to take – this information was uncovered by Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

A hearing ruled in Polanski’s favour could theoretically mean he would be free from the sentencing that he fled from following the trial. Believing he would be sent to prison after having pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, he flew to Europe where he has stayed ever since. The closest he came to sentencing came in 2009 when he was placed under house arrest in Switzerland after entering the country for a film festival, but was not extradited to the US.

In the emails, Fidlar also wrote of the public backlash he feared were Polanski to be freed. “Since the law was on his side because of Rittenband’s conduct, I was convinced I was toast if he ever came back, and my career would be over,” he wrote. “I’ve told several judges over the years that I had pity for any judge getting that case.”

So now we have a judicial that the suspicions we first broached to Polanski attorney Douglas Dalton after we learned of Rittenband’s death we correct: The judge had violated the law as well as the plea agreement reached by all parties in the case, including the family of the young woman at its center.

And the fears Rittenband expressed to us in his chambers [where by agreement we could ask each other anything and the answers stayed inside to door] should he carry through with what he had already agreed to turned out to be the very same fears voiced by the judge handed the case decades later: That to follow the law would lead to opprobrium and the end of a judicial career.

The irony in all this is that save for an affidavit we swore out in 1999 and mailed unsolicited to Douglas Dalton, no effort has been made to memorialize our testimony, which we suspect might be critical, given that we are the only living reporter who can testify to Rittenband’s judicial misconduct.

The New York Times story is here.

In Munich, the cry is ‘Take me to your liter’


It’s Okoberfest, and there’s a helluva lot of drinkin’ goin’ on.

First, a video that nicely captures the spirit[s] of the festivites from vlogger iamdelaney featuring the music of Skrillex and their song Bangarang:

Spiegel has the numbers, including the Bierleichen body count:

The first week of this year’s Oktoberfest is over, and as ever, the half-time statistics are almost as overpowering as the high-octane Munich beer served in the tents.

A clear picture is already emerging: there are more visitors, and they’re drinking a lot more beer, and that is having predictable consequences.

The number of Bierleichen, or “beer corpses” — a term referring to people who have drunk themselves into a state of unconsciousness — jumped by almost 20 percent to 445, most of them aged 30 or under, according to the Red Cross.

Visitor numbers to the famous folk festival have increased to 3.6 million from 3.5 million at the same time last year, thanks to sunnier weather, the organizers said. And the all-important statistic — the number of one-liter Mass glasses of beer guzzled — rose by almost six percent to 3.6 million, up from 3.4 million last year, the Bavarian capital of Munich said on Sunday.

At this rate, the festival could top last year’s all-time record beer consumption of 7.5 million liters — which would be an impressive feat given that the 2012 Oktoberfest has a fifth less space than usual due to an adjacent agricultural fair which ended on Sunday.

Read the rest.

One suspects that a good part of that increase in consumption falls into the category of dancing in the face of the economic storm.

And a journalist’s brush with Oktoberfest fame

The first time we ever became, fleetingly, an international media celebrity was back in 1979, and Oktoberfest was the reason.

Our newspaper, the late, great Santa Monica Evening Outlook, has published a UPI photo showing Polanski surrounded by beautiful women seated at an Oktoberfest table in Munich.

When the judge overseeing the prosecution of the famous director on sec crimes charges involving a 13-year-old model saw the photo on Sunday’s front page, he erupted, because he’d allowed Polanski to travel to Europe only to seek funding for a new feature film.

At issue was the caption, supplied by the wire service, declaring Polanski had come to Munch solely for fun.

When we walked into the office Monday morning, we were met by Polanski’s attorney with a subpoena, compelling our testimony about the origins of the caption. We did some digging and found out the “just for fun” quote  came not from the director but from a hotel desk clerk who hadn’t ever talked to Polanski.

Our testimony helped keep the director out of the jail cell where the judge had intended to send him pending the trial.

We were briefly featured on network news that night as we walked out of the courtroom and into a forest of microphones, and in countless news stories in papers around the world.

By the following day the newspaper stories were fishwrap and and the newscasts fleeting memories.

For more about the Polanski case and our curious role in one of the celebrated scandals of the 1970s, see here. Or watch Marina Zenovitch’s compelling documentary, Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired.

Polanski makes an apology, 37 years later


The world-renowned director has issued a belated apology to Samantha Geimer, 36 years after he fled the United States after a Santa Monica judge wrongly decided to send him back to prison after serving a prison sentence for statutory rape.

We’ve written extensively about the case, and about the outrageous conduct of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

But Polanski admitted in court that he had sex with the then-13-year-old Geimer at actor Jack Nicholson’s Coldwater Canyon home during a photographic session for the French edition of Vogue.

In a plea bargain accepted by the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and Geimer’s family, Polanski agreed to be incarcerated at the state prison in Chino under the guise of a psychiatric evaluation.

The state psychiatrist, a court-appointed psychiatrist, and the Los Angeles County Probation Department all agreed that Polanski shouldn’t receive additional incarceration, but after hearing complaints from the wives of friends who belonged to the Hillcrest County Club, Rittenband decided to send Polanski back to prison, in violation of both judicial ethics and the plea bargain.

In the years since, the details of the case have been revealed, most notably in Maria Zenovich’s documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, is which we appear.

But in all the years since the events in Santa Monica, Polanski has kept silent about the case.

Until now.

From Scott Roxborough of The Hollywood Reporter:

Director Roman Polanski publicly apologized to Samantha Greimer [sic], the woman he sexually assaulted 33 years ago, in a new documentary that had its world premiere Tuesday at the Zurich Film Festival.

“She is a double victim: my victim and a victim of the press,” the Oscar-winning director says near the end of Laurent Bouzereau’s Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir.

But those hoping this new documentary would provide further evidence for or against Polanski in the case that led him to flee America back in 1978 will be disappointed. The film, shot while Polanski was under house arrest in Switzerland two years ago awaiting possible extradition, offers little new information not already in the public record.

Read the rest.

We agree with Polanski.

Polanski was guilty of a crime, and plead guilty, serving a sentence in state prison. Geimer and her family were relentlessly pursued by the press, especially the Hollywood foreign press corps. One reporter offered esnl $25,000 for a location where they could “ambush” the teenager for photos and an interview. We declined.

Geimer and her family were the subjects of endless and often scurrilous tabloid speculation, as was Polanski himself.

Neither the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office nor the courts will acknowledge the great miscarraiges of justice that led Switzerland to deny extradition after they arrested Polanski on an Interpol hold after he arrived in the country to receive the Lifteime Achievement Award from the Zurich Film Festival — an award he finally received last night to a standing ovation.

Polanski on film: ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown’


From 2006, an interview with Roman Polanski that explores his approach to film, and the making of what esnl considers the most trenchant film ever made about power in the Golden State:

Let’s be clear: It didn’t start with the Rupester


Phone hacking? Wiretaps? Bribes to public officials? And all to gather tawdry scoops on celebrity scandals and crime victims? It all started with Rupert Murdoch, right?

Hardly.

In our 46 years in the news business, everything we’ve see unfolding in Britain with Murdoch’s media empire we’ve seen before, and much closer to home.

We’ve written a lot about the miscarriage of justice that was the Roman Polanski case, and how pressure from his pals at the Hillcrest Country Club led Judge Laurence J. Rittenband to renege on a plea and sentence agreed to by all parties involved in the case.

We’ve also mentioned that we were offered $25,000 — a lot of money in 1977 — for details on the young woman at the center of the case. The very American tabloid in question wanted an ambush photo and details of her private life, information we could’ve provided but didn’t.

But it doesn’t end there

Let’s begin with a story reported 11 July by Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times:

UCLA Health System has agreed to pay $865,500 as part of a settlement with federal regulators announced Thursday after two celebrity patients alleged that hospital employees broke the law and reviewed their medical records without authorization.

Federal and hospital officials declined to identify the celebrities involved. The complaints cover 2005 to 2009, a time during which hospital employees were repeatedly caught and fired for peeping at the medical records of dozens of celebrities, including Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett and then-California First Lady Maria Shriver.

Violations allegedly occurred at all three UCLA Health System hospitals — Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital and Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, according to UCLA spokeswoman Dale Tate.

The security breaches were first reported in The Times in 2008.

Read the rest.

UCLA, is of course, a public institution, funded by California taxpayers.

Back in the early 1990s, we knew a fellow who freelanced for television tabloid shows, regularly feeding them updates on, among other things, celebrity hospitalizations. Here’s what he told us:

“You know how I do it? I go to the hospital employee parking lots and I look for the oldest, rustiest, most beat-up car, then wait around to shift change and see who gets in it. I follow him until he stops somewhere, then I find out if he’s got access to patient records. If he does, I slip him some cash and promise a lot more when he gets me what I want.”

We also talked to a fellow who had installed a wiretap on the phone lines of so-called “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss, and listened to tapes of famous Hollywood stars and producers talking to Fleiss and her stable of prostitutes.

While the illegal tapes couldn’t be used, the leads they provided were.

The DADT tabloid rule

The rule of thumb in the business is don’t ask/don’t tell. Don’t ask how the scoops were obtained, and don’t tell your readers and viewers about the corrupt nature of the enterprise you represent. All that matters is the “get,” the fruit of the poisoned tree.

Just as in the case of Murdoch’s private eyes, most of these folks weren’t on the staffs of the tabloids, televised and tabloid, but worked on spec, feeding their scoops to the highest bidders.

Every single tactic practiced by Murdoch’s minions has long been practiced here Continue reading

More twisted reporting from the New York Times


Where to begin?

America’s “paper of record,” the one that offers us “All the news that’s fit to print,” has seen fit to print a lot of sheer rubbish these days.

The tradition that gave us Judith Miller’s war-mongering reporting — lie-based “reporting” that played a significant part in leading us into the Bush/Obama wars — continues to spin significantly to the right on so many critical issues.

Today, we’ll offer three examples, two from other bloggers and one from your truly.

Falsely reporting on the Argentine economy

From Dean Baker at Beat the Press:

NYT readers must have been stunned to see the second paragraph of an article on the prospects for shale oil in Argentina refer to “the country’s long-stagnant economy.”

According to data from the IMF, Argentina’s economy grew at almost an 8 percent annual rate from 2003 to 2008, following a severe recession in 1998-2002. The world economic crisis brought its economy to a standstill in 2009, but it grew by 9.2 percent last year and is projected to grow 6.0 percent this year. This is stagnant?

The Andrew Breitbart media manipulation scam

Brad Friedman at The Brad Blog has been doing an excellent job of debunking neocon media huckster Bretibart, the front man for the scammers who brought down ACORN and painted Shirley Sherrod as a virulent African American racist.

When the Times ran a smarmy profile of Breitbart 27 June, Friedman was quick to debunk. Here’s the introduction to his latest Times-skewering:

While we wait for the New York Times to hopefully correct last week’s puff-profile  on Rightwing scam-artist Andrew Breitbart, in regard to their demonstrably inaccurate statements about what occurred in his and James O’Keefe’s phony “pimp” hoax videos, I just noticed that the paper, which already corrected another point in the same piece, seems to be purposefully covering for Breitbart’s own original lie in their corrected text of the article.

At this point, they seem to be going out of their way to avoid calling Breitbart a liar, even if it means, impossibly, attempting to cover up for the very lie the paper states, he originally told them!

As we noted last week, the Times issued a correction to Jeremy W. Peters’ softball story, where he had originally reported that, in Breitbart’s selective clip from a speech by then USDA official Shirley Sherrod, audience members (according to Breitbart, but inexcusably never fact-checked by the paper before publication) “applauded” when she discussed her initial reticence in helping out a white farmer decades earlier.

In fact, as Media Matters first detailed on the day Peters’ NYTimes article was published — and as easily apparent to anybody who bothered to view the selective clip that Breitbart published at his websites under the inaccurate headline “NAACP Awards Racism” — the audience at the speech did not “applaud”.

Read the rest.

And, finally, esnl weighs in on another spin

The Roman Polanski case has become a cliche, invoked by the right on a regular basis to deplore variously the corruption of the French, the Hollywood Babylon stereotype, and, in the most virulent case, allegations of Jewish depravity.

Since the arrest of former IMF boss Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the Polanski case has been hauled out on a regular basis, invoking the full range of stereotypes, and always in flagrant disregard of facts already on the record.

The latest example comes from a column on the Strauss-Kahn case by Joe Nocera in today’s Times:

The man she says raped her — wealthy, famous and powerful — is on an airplane about to depart for his native land. This is the same country that, for decades, helped shield Roman Polanski from being prosecuted for statutory rape in the United States. The man in the current case appears to have left the hotel where the rape allegedly occurred in some haste. He even forgets to take one of his cellphones.

Here is our response, posted as a comment to the article here:

France did not shield Roman Polanski from prosecution. Polanski plead guilty and served the state prison sentence agreed [by judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and the young woman and her family]. He fled after the judge, acting in violation of the state judicial canons, reneged on the agreement after receiving criticism from the wives of fellow members of the Hillcrest Country Club.

The judicial breech of ethics was the reason the Swiss refused to extradite him.

The facts of the case were laid on in Marina Zenovich’s documentary, Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, and in my own accounts based on my coverage of the case as the only reporter then covering the Santa Monica court on a daily basis. My own accounts are here. http://richardbrenneman.wordpress.com/category/roman-polanski/

I would add that the prosecutor in the Polanski case, Roger Gunson, agreed that the judge acted improperly.

In every case in today’s examples, the real facts were readily accessible. Perhaps the Times should change it’s motto to “All the news we see fit to print — and spin.”

The bankster buster invokes Roman Polanski


We have to give a thumbs up to the mainstream press’s handling of the inevitable Roman Polanski references made when prosecutors invoked the auter when arguing against bail for IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with sexually assaulting a maid in a Manhattan luxury hotel.

Take Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press, who wrote that Manhattan Criminal Court Supervising Judge Melissa C. Jackson

ultimately decided Strauss-Kahn was too much of a flight risk to set any bail, after underscoring that she was keeping her considerations circumspect. When a prosecutor [Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel Alonso — esnl] brought up the case of Roman Polanski – the film director whom Switzerland has declined to extradite for sentencing in a 1977 California child sex case – Jackson courteously but firmly cut off that discussion.

“I will note that Roman Polanski has nothing to do with this,” she said. “I am trying to be objective, and I am not going to judge this individual on the basis of what happened with Roman Polanski.”

Read the rest.

It’s refreshing to see that Peltz and other MSM reporters got it mostly right, unlikely the so many bloggers, who have written repeatedly that Polanski had fled to avoid trial [Andrew Breitbart, that leading mouthpiece for neocon propaganda being a notable example].

But none of the stories have reported that Polanski had already served the prison sentence agreed to by all parties, including the district attorney’s office, the family of the young woman, and the judge himself. Polanski fled, as we’ve noted many times before, because the judge was breaking the agreement after Polanski had already served his time, more time than recommended by the state’s own psychiatric experts and the probation officer assigned to the case.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right? Or a celebrity analogy.

Now for the banker himself.

We’ve read repeated allegations from bloggers of left and libertarian bent suggesting that Strauss-Kahn was the target of a setup of the only viable candidate to oppose French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Strauss-Kahn, we are told is a socialist, and therefore the logical target of a takeout.

Perhaps. But then what kind of genuine socialist heads the IMF, the financial enforcement arm of the Washington/Wall Street power nexus? And what kind of real socialist stays in $3,000-a-night luxury hotel suites?

As for the French Socialist Party, consider her the “Old Gray Mare” we used to sing about when as Baby Boomer gradeschoolers: “She ain’t what she used to be.”

Today’s French socialist party bears as much resemblance to its founders as Barack Obama does to, say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Though, like FDR, the French socialists do like their luxury.

We don’t preclude the possibility of entrapment, but we Strauss-Kahn’s own background suggests a certain nonchalance, at the least, towards women.

And what kind of socialist is a fellow when folks like odious neocon apologist Ben Stein rise to his defense?

We’ll keep an open mind on the Strauss-Kahn case, as well as an open ear for more Polanski references.

Now online: Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired


Here’s a link to the Marina Zenovich documentary featuring, among others, esnl. It’s a fascinating story, and depicts a grave and gravely misunderstood miscarriage of justice by a flawed and deeply corrupt judge.

We’re the guy in the red vest.

Click here to play.

Roman Polanski, starring in the WikiLeaks cables


As we’ve written repeatedly, Roman Polanski fulfilled every condition of the plea bargain approved by the judge in the case — including time in state prison — and only fled the country after the judge, acting on explicitly illegal grounds.

Besides garnering endless tabloid headlines, the Polish-born film director and his plight also popped up in those diplomatic cables currently being released by WikiLeaks.

We’ve found two references so far, including a quote from the late White House special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke.

The first mention pops up in a cable from Ambassador to Switzerland Donald S. Beyer sent on 8 October 2009 to relay the substance of a conversation with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

The cable, classified SECRET, is here.

The relevant paragraphs:

¶1. (S) I and the rest of the Embassy Bern team are looking forward to your visit with great anticipation in what promises to be a landmark event in Armenian-Turkish relations with lasting benefits for Euro-Atlantic security. Foreign Minister Calmy-Rey is riding high on a series of foreign policy successes, from the Swiss government’s agreement with DOJ in the UBS matter, to Switzerland’s hosting of the October 1 P5 1 talks with Iran in Geneva, to the upcoming October 10 signing ceremony in Zurich to chart a path for normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

¶2. (S) While Calmy-Rey has reasons to celebrate, her foreign policy activism is not universally appreciated across the domestic political spectrum in Switzerland. Swiss views are colored by Switzerland’s centuries-old tradition of neutrality. Issues that draw on the Swiss capacity for facilitation and mediation, such as Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, generally enjoy strong public support. On the other hand, foreign policy activism with a more partisan or “hard” security flavor, such as Calmy-Rey’s vociferous support for Kosovo independence, or her recent all out — but ultimately unsuccessful — effort to obtain a parliamentary mandate for Swiss military participation in the EU anti-piracy operation Atalanta, do not enjoy the same broad public support. The recent arrest at the Zurich airport of film director Roman Polanski was viewed by Calmy-Rey as putting a dent in Switzerland’s international image. Nevertheless, she has limited her criticism to remarking that the arrest lacked “finesse,” and surely is aware that Swiss public opinion favors Polanski’s extradition to the United States.

The second cable, sent 26 February of this year, describes a conversation between Holbrooke and Kazakhstan’s State Secretary-Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev five days earlier.

The cable, classified CONFIDENTIAL, is here.

The relevant paragraph refers to the 3 Spetember 2009 conviction of Kazakh human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis:

¶12. (C) Saudabayev observed that the “unprecedented pressure” being placed on Kazakhstan as a result of the Zhovtis conviction is “not viewed positively in our society.” He acknowledged that the “only legitimate way out” for Zhovtis would be via presidential pardon, but said, “that is the prerogative of our president.” Attempting to draw a parallel, Saudabayev added that he admired the “persistence” of the U.S. judicial system in its persistent attempts to get film director Roman Polanski, “even though he was forgiven by the victim.” Holbrooke took strong exception, noting that Polanski fled justice, escaped the law, and has been living free despite his conviction by a U.S. court.

Holbrooke is wrong: Polanski fled injustice, not justice. And while Holbrooke said he “has been living free,” the director’s travels were tightly restricted, and before his arrest had been largely limited to France, Germany, and Switzerland, the scene of his arrest and months-long incarceration and house arrest.

Samantha Geimer on Roman Polanski


From her appearance on Larry King last night. Apologies for the commercial upfront.

Samantha Geimer speaks out on Polanski case


The woman at the center of the never-ending Roman Polanski saga told Larry King today that she’s been harmed by the court system and the media far more than anything she endured at the hands of the director.

While she’s not a fan of Polanski, who she described as neither very likeable or nice, Geimer told the talk show host that she wishes him well and believes he’s been punished sufficiently.

Geinmer said both she and the director are being exploited by by others for ulterior motives having little to do with case, a point we’ve made repeatedly both here and in the Marina Zenovich documentary Roman Polanski Wanted and Desired, in which both Geimer and I appeared.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley launched the latest extradition effort, which resulted in Polanski spending time in a Swiss prison and later under house arrest at his home in Gstaad, at the same time he was launching his run for the California Attorney General’s office. In the process he gained a stream of headlines as a “tough on crime” prosecutor at the time he needed them most.

Polanski, whose Chinatown remains the classic statement on corruption in California development politics, has been an unwitting star in the never-ending culture wars, abused in endless screeds written by people who have no knowledge of the case as it played out.

The oft-repeated lie, posted in thousands of blog posts and ten of thousands of comments, declares that Polanski was never tried or punished for his statutory rape of the then-13-year-old would-be actress.

In fact, as we have written repeatedly, Polanski didn’t go on trial because he pled guilty, and he served the prison term agreed by the judge, the prosecutor, Polanski’s defense attorney, and Geimer and her family.

Polanski fled the country because judge breached the canons of judicial ethics — a cause for censure and possible disbarment had his acts become known at the time — and sought advice of sentencing from “civilians” uninvolved in the case and solely because he was worried about his reputation. I know this because I was one of those he specifically asked for advice on sentencing.

And because of the illicit advice he received he decided to change the deal, even though Polanski had fulfilled it in every detail. He’d already been to prison.

It’s ironic that the folks who are clamoring for Polanski’s scalp are precisely those folks who profess compassion for rape victims — conveniently ignoring the fact that Geimer says she has been victimized more by them than by Polanski.

It was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband who is the ultimate villain of the piece, a judge who breached his own oath of office and subjected a young woman to a second victimization which has proved worse than the first.

It was the Los Angeles Court system, with Cooley’s complicity, which refused to send the Swiss the records of a closed-door court session in which the judge’s misdeeds were discussed — which led that nation to reject the extradition request, making the court an ongoing participant in an injustice which has been going on for 43 years.

One of those who testified at that still-secret hearing was the prosecutor who tried the original case, and who has made no secret that he believes Polanski fulfilled the terms of his plea and that the judge acted improperly.

It’s time for this to end.

Just discovered: Max Keiser on Roman Polanski


Regular esnl readers know by now that we’re big fans of Max Keiser, and that we’re also fans of Max Keiser, the maverick economist better known in the rest of the world than here in his homeland. A second obsession is the Roman Polanski case, in which esnl testified as a witness. Imagine our pleasant surprise in discovery that Keiser had spoken at length about the case on French TV [France 24] on 29 September, just after the director’s arrest in Switzerland. Not only that, but Keiser takes much the same stance on the case as does this blog. Even more impressive, Keiser is one of the few television talking [and sometimes shouting] heads who shows a real knowledge of the case. And he deftly links the case to American imperialism, this time in the legal realm!

People v Polanski, IV: The media bizarre


On August 1977, I decided to write a feature about the media glare focused on the courtroom where I’d usually been the only reporter around before Roman Polanski put in an appearance.

With the world-acclaimed director scheduled to appear for trial on charges of sodomizing and drugging a 13-year-old Valley girl, Department D. of the Santa Monica Superior Court would be a focus of the Western world’s attention.

The case had everything: Sex, drugs, a Holocaust survivor defendant who’d lost his wife and unborn child to the most ghoulish clan of murderers ever seen in modern California, plus the added frisson of a confrontation that would embody all the dynamics of the culture wars.

And I was sitting in the catbird’s seat, the only reporter who knew the legal players, including the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, who would ultimately derail everything, keeping the case and the moment alive until, well, right now.

In those more innocent days, before the rise of the Internet, Tweets, instant messaging, and all the rest, the psychodrama was acted out on television screens, in talk show broadcasts, and on the pages of a gamut of print media, ranging from staid gray columns of newsprint to the lurid covers of tabloids and magazines.

While the tabloids and celebrity mags cooked up some howlers, they pale by comparison with today’s Internet world, where I’ve been following this latest iteration of The Case That Will Not Die to the point of printing our a few thousand pages of blog posts and largely anonymous comments.

The range of outright ignorance astounds me. For someone who knows the case intimately [to the point of having testified in court before the implosion], what the online world offers about the case of People v. Roman Polanski has much more to say about the ongoing cultural wars than it does about the case itself.

The latest major development, the one which may have put the quietus to the effort to repunish Polanski [and yes, he was punished].

When Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf announced Monday that she was refusing the U.S. request to return the director to the capricious ministrations of the California courts and a Los Angeles County District Attorney currently in the midst of a run for higher office, she raised all the right questions.

First and foremost, she hadn’t seen conclusive proof that Polanski hadn’t already served his sentence. Her office later cited the refusal of folks on this side of the pond to send the transcripts of a secret court hearing featuring Roger Gunson, the former Deputy District Attorney who conducted the prosecution.

That leaves Gunson’s interviews in Marina Zenovich’s documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired, as the best evidence for any journalist writing about the case, and there Gunson makes clear that the judge breached a plea agreement which included prison time already served by Polanski under the guise of a 42-day psychiatric evaluation.

My own appearance in the film establishes that Judge Rittenband had illegally sought advice on what he could do that would leave him with the best possible media image, while his judicial obligation was to make a determination based solely on the law and the facts presented to him through the criminal justice process.

But does any of this play any role in the current media furor?

Damn little.

Instead, the media milieu and the blogosphere is rife with animus. Here at esnl, one of my previous posts elicited a comment that contained an implicit death threat aimed at the director. At least I know who sent it, which is something that I can’t say about 99 percent of the comments I’ve found online.

Here’re some examples:

  • I have been reading and following the media about “Mr. Polanski” being in jail and I threw up when I heard commentaries like those of “Ms. Debra Tate” and all the hollywood people who think they have no rules and regulations and laws. They only have their own laws. They make them up as they go. I would like to ask “Ms. Whoopi Goldberg”, “Ms. Debra Tate” “Mr. Michael [sic] Scorcese” and all the others who are backing this animal, “WHAT IF IT HAPPENED TO ONE OF YOUR CHILDREN WHAT WOULD YOU DO?” WOULD YOU GLORIFY THE PREDATOR? I DON’T THINK SO!!!!!
  • We probably should be aware that the people who are defending Polanski most loudly, by and large, are people who probably spent formative years in the same micro-cultural power structure and system that probably led to the intial rape.
  • He confessed. He was convicted and fled the country to escape sentencing. I don’t get why people keep talking about how “complicated” the case is. It’s jut fucking not complicated.
  • Hell, I don’t even care if anyone “still likes” his movies. His MOVIES didn’t rape anyone and then “suffer” in exile as a millionaire in Europe. JUST QUIT EXCUSING HIS CRIMES WITH HIS “ART,” FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!
  • The *only* reason this “old” case is being “dredged back up” is because the fucking perp fled motherfucking justice after raping a child. Continue reading

People v Roman Polanski, III: A matter of law


Throughout the media’s coverage of the latest turns in the case of People v. Roman Polanski, the most common theme runs like this: The Polish-born director fled the country to avoid serving his prison sentence.

That’s simply wrong, a deft bit of spin perpetuated by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, which is headed by an ambitious Republican who’s running for California Attorney General.

The simple truth is that Polanski served his sentence, one agreed on by all parties to the case: Judge Laurence J. Rittendband, then-District Attorney John Van de Kamp, Polanski attorney Douglas Dalton, and Lawrence Silver, the attorney for Samantha Geimer, the young woman who was abused by Polanski.

The key date to remember is 8 August 1977, when Polanski appeared before the judge to enter his plea, playing the role of actor in a bit of courtroom drama scripted by the judge.

Rittenband had drafted a 46-question, seven-page script, an unprecedented move unparalleled in the experience of attorneys and courtroom observers. Rittenband then ordered Polanski to undergo testing by two psychiatrists before sentencing, which he then set for September 19.

The psychiatrists were to determine whether or not whether Polanski was a mentally disordered sex offender [MDSO], which would require him to register with law enforcement officials in any California city where he might live. Neither ther judge or the attorneys expected the shrinks to reach that finding.

But it was all a charade, and the agreement hammered out behind the closed doors of the judge’s chambers mandated that after the shrinks reported back, Polanski would be sent to state prison, ostensibly for an in-custody evaluation to determine what sentence would be appropriate.

The stark reality of the incarceration for diagnosis was that it was devised by the judge as a means to appease his own ego, allowing him to say “I sent him to prison.”

The reality of California law is that sentences of less than one year — a “bullet” in court-speak — are served in county jails, not prisons. Hence, the decision to impose what amounted to a prison sentence of less than a year was illegal on its face, but accepted reluctantly by the attorneys and the defendants in light of the judge’s irrational conduct in the case.

On 19 September Polanski was back in court. Based on the findings of the psychiatrists, the judge ruled Polanski was not a mentally disordered sex offender. Both psychiatrists and the Los Angeles County Probation Department recommended that no prison be imposed.

Rittenband then ordered Polanski to Chino state prison for the psychiatric examination to determine appropriate sentencing, then stayed to commitment order until 19 December to allow the director to complete pre-production work on a film he was scheduled to direct.

The next day I reported that Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson had told me that if the prison system recommended no more time for Polanski, the D.A.’s office would not object. “If that occurs, I would probably say that would be a satisfactory disposition,” Gunson told me, which was as close to an articulation of the plea agreement he could offer.

I met a lot of prosecutors during my years at the Evening Outlook, and I respect none of them more than I do Roger Gunson. A conservative, soft-spoken Mormon, Gunson was a model prosecutor. The office joke was that Gunson was given the Polanski case because he was the only prosecutor who hadn’t “dipped his wick in jail bait.”

A journalist’s error sets the stage

Nobody could’ve predicted what happened next: a journalist’s error that angered the judge’s buddies and put yours truly on the witness stand.

It started with a photograph taken by a Munich free-lancer and a a United Press International reporter wrote up the muddled caption that was the result of the journalistic equivalent of the old “telephone game.”

On 28 September, the Santa Monica Evening Outlook printed a large front

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Swiss letter on Polanski raises the central issue


Linda Deutsch is the chief trial reporter for the Associated Press, and she was in Judge Laurnece J. Rittenband’s courtroom 33 years ago during the judicial debacle that was the Roman Polanski prosecution. She’s a superb reporter, and in this just-filed story she gets to the heart of the Swiss refusal to extradite the director.

The Swiss government asked the U.S. Justice Department to release sealed transcripts in the Roman Polanski case just days before a Los Angeles judge was told that the Swiss did not request that information, according to a letter from Swiss officials that points to apparent miscommunication in the case.

The officials said that the denial of access to the information was the key factor in the refusal to extradite the filmmaker to the U.S., according to the letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

>snip<

The letter blamed the denial of extradition solidly on the refusal by the Justice Department to show transcripts of testimony by the film director’s original prosecutor to Swiss officials.

“Since the additional documents requested were not transmitted in full, extradition of Roman Polanski to the United States of America is thus denied,” said the letter.

Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said she had no comment on the matter.

The Swiss said that they wanted to know whether Polanski, who was being held in a 33-year-old sex case, had already served his sentence. [Emphasis added.]

The Swiss had said from the beginning that their extradition laws allowed Polanski to be sent to the United States only if he was going to be required to serve at least six months in prison. They sought the testimony of original prosecutor Roger Gunson to clarify the matter.

On May 13, the letter said, the Justice Department “responded that the desired copy of the statement of Roger Gunson could not be given out.”

The letter added, “Under these circumstances it cannot be excluded with certainty that Roman Polanski, who was imprisoned in the Chino State Prison for 42 days, has not already served the sentence imposed on him.”

It was the first indication that the Swiss were potentially

Continue reading

People v Roman Polanski II: Judicial arrogance


As a journalist who covered the 1977 prosecution of Roman Polanski from the start, I was the only reporter in the courtroom throughout who knew the judge.

And I can say without equivocation that Laurence J. Rittenband was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, as well as one of the most corrupt. No, he wasn’t taking dollars or deeds under the table. His corruption ran much deeper.

But first, some background.

I started at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook in December, 1976, at the age of 30, assigned to the cover the courts and tackle special projects, or what later came to be called “investigative reporting.”

The Santa Monica Superior Court — officially the Los Angeles County Superior Court West District —covers the richest part of Los Angeles County, from Malibu in the north to Beverly Hills and Westwood on the east and down to Venice on the south.

Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, Westwood, and Brentwood all fell within its jurisdiction.

Celebrities made frequent appearances. I covered a Bob Dylan’s child custody dispute, the battle over the state of Groucho Marx, a baseball assault by Evel Knievel, and a Raquel Welch’s wrongful death suit against UCLA alleging malpractice in the death of her father. I even met a guy named Orenthal James Simpson who was getting a divorce [the case was considered so minor that I didn’t even write about it].

I was the only reporter covering the Santa Monica courthouse on a regular basis, and I got to know most of the judges, who would direct reporters parachuting in for celebrity cases to me for explanations about the courthouse and its players.

I had free access to the District Attorney’s office, and would hang out with the attorneys during free time, since they were the best possible sources in covering criminal cases.

When I first set foot in the courthouse, I’d never covered a trial. But reporters are expected to be quick studies, and I was.

Since a judge is supposed to be the one impartial person in a courtroom [both prosecutors and defense attorneys are advocates for their respective cases], one of the first steps I took in deciphering the legal maze I’d entered was to talk to the judge.

Scrapbooks and the California Penal Code

Rittenband was more than eager to help. As I would discover, among his other vices, hizzoner was a raging egotist, who kept every press clipping about his high profile cases in leather-bound  scrapbooks, maintained by Leonard Walton, the Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff who served as his bailiff.

Any questions I had about legal motions and the arcane twists of the California Penal and Evidence Codes the judge would answer as we sat in his chambers.

I had plenty of questions, and the judge’s answers were always accurate and precise, and I was grateful for the help, which let me explain events accurately and clearly to my readers. Thanks in part to his help, I was able to write stories that won awards from the State Bar of California and the American Bar Association, among others.

Rittenband was what my dad would’ve called a “banty,” a short, feisty fellow with a temperament like a bantam rooster: preening, assertive, and always alert for any encroachments on his claimed turf.

He was also, I would learn over time, brazenly arrogant, quick to take offense, and incapable of suffering fools gladly. And anyone who dared challenge his elevated self-image would find themselves the target of venomous, ill-concealed rage.

Laurence J. Rittenband, I would learn, was also a “prosecutor’s judge,” and

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People v. Roman Polanski: The basic facts, Pt. I


The real lesson of the latest iteration of the Roman Polanski case isn’t about justice. It’s more revealing about Americans as a people than it is about an incident that took place in Jack Nicholson’s home so many years ago.

I have a unique perspective on the case, and I’ve been following it since the day Polanski was arrested in his room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel by the same Los Angeles Police detective whose conduct played a major role in tanking the O.J. Simpson murder prosecution.

I was the only reporter regularly covering the Santa Monica courthouse where the drama played out, and I was privy to the players and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and backtracking which led directly to the debacle we’re seen unfolding 33 years later.

What most astounds me about the case is the colossal failure of the American news media to accurately report the facts of the case, which have been readily available since Marina Zenovich released her brilliant documentary Roman Polanski, Wanted and Desired [in which I am featured].

Some of the news coverage has been nothing short of appalling, misrepresenting basic facts of the case which were well documented and in the public record before the film’s release.

The overt facts of the case are simple; so too are the covert truths.

In this and two subsequent entries I’ll lay them out, along with the grievous failure of today’s press to report the story accurately.

For today, let’s start with a basic chronology:

10 March 1977: Polanski picks up 13-year-old Samantha Geimer at her mother’s home for a photo shoot for French Vogue. They end up at the home of his friend Jack Nicholson, where he gives her a drug and champagne and engage in sex, which she says was not consensual.

11 March: Polanski is arrested at the Beverly Wilshire, where he is found in possession of the drug [Quualude] and the negatives from the photo shoot. Actress Anjelica Huston, Nicholson’s partner, is arrested at the actor’s home for possession of cocaine. She will later turn state’s witness in exchange for dismissal of the charge.

24 March: Polanski is indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on charges of rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen [statuory rape], and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.

20 April: Polanski appears in the Santa Monica courthouse, where the case is assigned to Department D, the domain of Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. I knew the judge, and had sat through the critical case of a mob-related triple murder case in his courtroom that had ended three months previously. Knowing I had never covered criminal courts, the judge had offered to mentor me in the labyrinth of the California Penal Code, and we had talked frequently in his chambers about matters of law.

30 April: I published the first of what would be several exclusive stories about the Polanski case, reporting that the director had turned down an offer to plead guilty to one count of statutory rape. Douglas Dalton, his attorney, countered with an offer to plead guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which was rejected.

20 May: The judge refuses to allow Dalton to question Samantha Geimer before the trial.

21 May: I published another exclusive, revealing that detectives had found

Continue reading

Victim to L.A.’s D.A.: Drop the Polanski case


Samantha Geimer tells the Los Angeles Times what she’s been saying for the last three decades:

The victim in the Roman Polanski sex case said she hopes the  Swiss government’s decision not to extradite the director to the United States to face sentencing for having sex with her when she was 13 brings the long-running case to a close.

Samantha Geimer, who has in the past publicly forgiven Polanski, told The Times she hopes L.A. County prosecutors will now drop the matter.

“I hope that the D.A.’s office will now have this case dismissed and finally put the matter to rest once and for all,” she said in an e-mail.

More on the Swiss ruling on Polanski’s arrest


Jack Leonard and Andrew Blankstein of the Los Angeles Times got it right in their story about the case. First, they report that the extradition treaty signed by the U.S. and Switzerland doesn’t mandate the handing over of those facing six months or less of prison.

Then they identify the key document the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office refused to provide the Swiss:

After Polanski was detained last year, former Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger Gunson provided testimony about the meeting he and the director’s original defense attorney had with the judge in 1977. His testimony was given in the event that he was unable to attend a hearing should Polanski return to Los Angeles.

Two judges ordered that the transcripts from Gunson’s deposition remain sealed, citing state law.

Swiss authorities appeared to give contradictory views of how important the transcripts were to the extradition case.

In April, a justice ministry spokesman told the Associated Press that his office was not interested in Gunson’s testimony. But on Monday, the same agency said it had asked the U.S. for the records and had been rebuffed.

Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor, said that Polanski’s three-decade-old criminal case raises a host of complicated legal issues and that the extradition request may have been “hopeless from the start.”

“Switzerland apparently decided, ‘We will not extradite someone back into this legal morass,’ ” Weisberg said.

Indeed. The transcript detailed the prosecutor’s concerns about the case and, presumably, the judge’s breech of the agreement after Polanski had served time in prison specified in the agreement.

To the Swiss, it must have looked as though they were being asked to hand over a man who had already completed the agreed prison confinement to a kangaroo court and a capricious prosecutor. That they acted as they did demonstrates that the law means more to the Swiss than it does to an ambitious California prosecutor and a court system which should be ashamed of itself.