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.
  • Polanski’s refusal to face up to the charges and subsequent decision to flee the country, is the reason she’s still having to hear the accounts.
  • It’s disgusting to think we are expected to let Polanski go simply because time has passed. He raped a child, he should be punished.
  • I hope the charges do not get dropped. Like enty said, that just means it’s OK for rich, famous people to commit crimes and never have to pay for them. I don’t care how long it has been, he had sex with a child, and he should be punished.
  • In my opinion, Polanski made a mockery of the legal system in LA County and California .. granted that is apparently not all that hard if you are a celebrity.
  • Roman Polanski needs to share a prison cell with Charlie Manson and find out why rape is illegal
  • if polanski had acted like a man 32 years ago this would have been over and done with then. HE is the reason she is still dealing with this. First he raped her then screwed her by fleeing for 32 years.
  • “Have we really gotten so STUPID and TWISTED that we care what the CRIMINAL says he was doing? and do we REALLY think a 45 day stay in jail makes up for RAPING a child? Polanski was afraid he wouldn’t get a FAIR TRIAL? hmmm ISN’T THAT WHAT ALL CRIMINALS SAY? I’m going to go bang my head on the floor..makes more sense than defending a RAPIST.”
  • Didn’t this scum bag was released on bail in US while back to escape to Europe and now they put him in same position…..right well I guess if you rich globally that means you don’t have to stand trial for your crimes….wow good lesson to all the kids out their….
  • Free to molest again at last! Now, where’s the closest Swiss schoolyard? No, wait let’s stop at that liquor store first, it’s easier when the child is drunk, heh-heh.

And then there was Cokie Roberts, who propounded her vision of justice from the bully pulpit of ABC Television:

“He raped and drugged and raped and sodomized a child. And then was a fugitive from justice. As far as I’m concerned, just take him out and shoot him.”

[Wait, she issues a fatwa and still has a job and they fired Helen Thomas?]

Then there’s another category, which ranges the gamut from pro- to vehemently anti-Polanski but change the game by blaming the victim or her mother. Those I won’t dignify by reprinting them here.

But the mainstream media have jumped the shark as well, starting with the Washngton Post editorial I dissected earlier.

Editorial indiscretions, written Rohrschachs

The folks who have no excuse for their ignorance are the editorial writers at America’s newspapers. Of the dozen or so editorials I found on the case, only one writer grasped the ambiguity of the case. All the others used the occasion to harrumph about the undisputed evils of rape [no problem] and the perfidy of the Swiss [real problem].

But then it’s easy to feign high dudgeon about a nefarious director than it is to thoughtfully examine the way to California judicial system was perverted by a raging egomanic on the bench, a judge whose best friend was mob frontman Sid Korshak [whose name is never mentioned in stories about the judge, save here at esnl].

Starting close to home, here’s an excerpt of the Fresno Bee’s editorial, headlined Polanski must stop running from his crime :

The government of Switzerland has now become a co-conspirator in Roman Polanski’s successful quest to avoid justice. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, but instead of accepting his punishment, the film director fled the country. Swiss officials don’t seem to have a problem with Polanski dodging American authorities, refusing Monday to extradite him to the United States.

This is a simple issue, even though Swiss authorities attempted to cite legal questions as part of their justification in not extraditing Polanski. He should be returned to Los Angeles to allow the justice system to determine an appropriate punishment. That punishment should include a substantial enhancement for fleeing the country.

It is an outrage that Polanski can live freely in parts of Europe without paying for his very serious crime in the United States.

Let’s not forget that Polanski committed an even worse crime than he was allowed to plead to during his Los Angeles court proceedings more than three decades ago. By cutting a deal with prosecutors, Polanski was not charged with drugging and raping the 13-year-old girl. But he fled anyway, fearing that the judge would give him a stiffer sentence than what he’d been promised by prosecutors.

There’s no doubt that the Oscar-winning director, now 76, has used his fame to dodge justice.

The Swiss cited “legal reasons.” Right. And good ones.

As the Associated Press reported, “Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said extradition had to be rejected ‘considering the persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case.’”

Referring to the repressed testimony of Roger Gunson, the Swiss justice ministry had this to say to the AP:

The testimony “should prove” that Polanski actually served his sentence while undergoing a court-ordered diagnostic study after charges were filed, the Swiss Justice Ministry said.

“If this were the case, Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation,” the ministry said. They also noted that Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, has repeatedly asked that the case be dropped.“

Ah, those inconvenient “technicalities.”

The Los Angeles Times, unable to resist the cutesy headline, editorialized “The Swiss miss on Roman Polanski.” Here’s the meat from their effort:

Switzerland’s primary rationalization was that the judge in Polanski’s case may have reneged on a promise that the director would serve only 42 days in a prison psychiatric unit. “It is not possible to exclude with the necessary certainty,” the Swiss justice department said, “that Roman Polanski has already served the sentence he was condemned to.” The department noted that it couldn’t be sure because it had been denied sealed testimony by a former prosecutor that might have corroborated that assertion.

But that’s an issue that should have been dealt with by an inquiry in an American court once Polanski was back in the United States. Switzerland’s proper role was not to consider the underlying facts of a sentence but to return a fugitive from justice.

As if they realized their claim was unconvincing, the Swiss also said that under international law, extradition requests must be acted on in “good faith.” Doing so, the department said, required taking into account the fact that the United States waited years to file a formal request for Polanski to be taken into custody. That delay supposedly justified Polanski’s expectation that he wouldn’t be arrested if he attended a film festival in Zurich.

It’s hard to resist concluding that Polanski’s celebrity played a role in his rescue from a legal accounting in the United States. Would a fugitive who wasn’t a gifted director provoke musings about the dictates of “international public order”? Or the conclusion that, just because he hadn’t been apprehended so far, he had a legitimate expectation that he would remain free forever? It seems the Swiss may share the moral myopia that has made Polanski an object of sympathy throughout Europe. ( France’s culture minister said the pursuit of Polanski was evidence of “a scary America.”)

First, the Times is saying it’s not a “scary America?” where human rights have fallen by the wayside? Haven’t they read the PATRIOT Act. Or the presidential claim to the right to kill any American citizen deemed an enemy of the people without trial or even a review by some judicial authority?

Second, and more to the point, the Times seems to argue that anyone should be extradited anytime the U.S. demands, regardless of the law of the nation where the would-be extraditee is being held.

Obviously, the only explanation is that the Swiss suffer from “moral myopia!”

Back in September after Polanski was arrested by the Swiss, the New York Times chimed in with this:

There was something strange about the Swiss deciding to arrest the director now, after having let him freely move in and out of the country for three decades. And a 2008 documentary by Marina Zenovich, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” raised some troubling questions about the bizarre way a celebrity-hungry judge in California, Laurence Rittenband, handled the case.

Yet where is the injustice in bringing to justice someone who pleads guilty to statutory rape and then goes on the lam, no matter how talented he may be?

The Times conveniently forgets that Polanski not only plead guilty, but he also served the term greed in the plea bargain the judge had approved. Polanski didn’t just plea and go “on the lam.” He entered his plea, then went to prison, fulfilling the plea agreement. The whole diagnostic pretense was just that, a sham. It was the prison sentence Polanski agreed to. He did the crime, then did the time. Period.

After this week’s Swiss decision, the Dallas News editorialized thusly:

“Swiss officials can cite legal technicalities all they wish, but the plain fact is that by refusing to extradite celebrated filmmaker Roman Polanski, they let a guilty man go free. Polanski, accused of using champagne and half a Quaalude to drug a 13-year-old before forcing her to have sex, was indicted on six felony counts and eventually pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. He fled the U.S. in 1978, rather than face a judge for sentencing.”

Ditto.  And does this mean that the next tine a Dallas cops tells a News he can’t photograph something, they’ll just write it off as “a technicality?” Inquiring minds want to know.

One of the more breathtakingly ignorant statements came from the editorial board at the New York Daily News just after the September arrest:

What’s shocking is that so many notables would rise up to defend a man guilty of such reprehensible behavior. And their attempted excuses for Polanski – His mother died in the Holocaust! His wife was murdered by the Manson family! It wasn’t the girl’s first time anyway! – are stomach-turning.

Central to Polanski’s claim to martyrdom is an HBO documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.” The film suggests that the judge and prosecutors engaged in misconduct, in effect, deceiving him into taking a plea. Perhaps that’s the case. If so, he has a clear option: Stand trial and face the full weight of the law.

Stand trial? He already plead guilty and served his sentence. The only issue before any court is formal sentencing, so where does a trial miraculously appear.

And if there were, by some miracle of law, to be a trial, there’d be no case, because the only other witness to the events made clear from the start that she wouldn’t testify. But hey, that’s just one of them legal technicalities, right?

Then, after the Swiss decision this week, the Daily News editorialized:

This is a crime for which American prosecutors are still trying to seek justice – only to be thwarted at every turn by an on-the-lam Polanski and his simpering apologists.

They say it is 33 years later, as though justice for rape has an expiration date. They say Polanski’s victim does not support prosecution. They say Polanski was led to believe he would be free after serving only a short stint for a guilty plea of unlawful sex. They say he fled the country when it appeared that the judge (now dead) reversed course and chose to keep him behind bars longer.

Questionable behavior by a judge does not invalidate an underlying crime.

If Roman Polanski were the name of an ordinary American citizen, or a schoolteacher, or a Catholic priest, he would be pursued even to his grave. Most certainly if he were a priest.

Instead, talented, famous Roman Polanski has an army of admirers.

Ignored again: The judge “changed his mind” after Polanski had served his sentence. But, hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good but legally dubious editorial.

Surprisingly, the one ray of light in the editorial morass of ill-illumined ignorance shines forth from the editorial page of the Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pennsylvania.

The editorial, “Chasing Polanski a fruitless pursuit,” reaches a conclusion that strikes home:

One factor in the decision was the refusal of U.S. authorities to meet a Swiss request for transcripts of secret testimony from the prosecutor who handled the initial case against Polanski.

“The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat,”” fumed Steve Cooley, who is the current Los Angeles County district attorney and a candidate for state attorney general.

But, the point is, U.S. authorities provided that hook, and some of the blame for Polanski’s renewed freedom lies with them.

There is ample evidence, supported by more than one court decision, that Polanski was the victim of judicial misconduct. That, added to the fact that his victim opposes any further prosecution, might be argument enough for U.S. authorities to drop this case.

Polanski has spent 32 years looking over his shoulder, and he can never escape the stain of being a child molester. Perhaps that should, after all these years and consideration of the other circumstances, be considered punishment enough.

So three cheers for the community paper who got it right!

Editorial cartoonists have also weighed in, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the premise of the Washington Examiner‘s Nate Beeler, I admire the execution of what he’s titled Roman Polanski Noir:

[And finally, there’s Whoppi Goldberg, who’s sprung to the defense of both Raymond Polanski and Mel Gibson, an odd pairing indeed. Of such complexity, esnl has nothing to say.]


14 responses to “People v Polanski, IV: The media bizarre

  1. Some “real ‘Muricans” kick and pout and scream like below-the-median three-year-old spoilt brats when their spectacular bread and circuses fail to come off per corporate cheerleading. That’s one reason I’m beginning to seriously doubt I’ll ever go home; it’s a very open question whether my “home” country still exists in any meaningful sense.

  2. I just posted a blog called Leave Roman Polanski Alone and one of the comments was, of course, “What it it happened to your daughter, or do you think he deserves special treatment because he’s an artist?”

    Made me realize something — the man IS getting special treatment. Special attention and special hatred. Your observation that this is as much part of the American cultural war is right on target, and I’m glad I found your blog today.

  3. The first appearance of Polanski in Switzerland is at a Jazz Festival where his wife Emmanuelle Seigner is singing music from Rosemary’s Baby!

    Coincidence? No!

    It took Swiss Justice to say NO to the devil of injustice that lives on in the Santa Monica, courtroom, assisted by Federal Court Judges, Magistrates, including those who ratified the Torture Memos,

    which means that sexual assault victims who have been re-victimized by police assault and battery, and Santa Monica Judges covering up, are then victimized again by Federal Judges with Dog and Pony show decisions, using bait and switch justice, over 12 years to prolong the torture.

    33 years later thanks to Swiss Justice, Polanski was rescued, when American justice failed.

    In refusing to extradite Polanski, and by not pandering to California’s PRECIOUS DOUBLE STANDARD, Swiss Justice also assisted sexual assault victims in California

    A Santa Monica Judge permitted bait and switch justice and police thuggery in his Courtroom that injured a sexual assault victim, and covered up the White Identities of the police involved in assault and battering the sexual assault victim.

    in Roman Polanski’s case bait and switch justice was used also to break the plea bargain agreement, that the Judge had made with Roman Polanski. Ask Los Angeles Prosecutor Roger Gunson!!!

    Can you see the devil yet?

    Yes its that unreliable American Justice sitting in the next room, who wants to suck the life out of you,

    through use of bait and switch justice,

    who will first bait you with a favorable or solid decision, only to suck on your blood, and suprise you from behind by pushing you off a cliff years later.

  4. The Swiss made a mistake and have since tightened their conditions of extradition on account of the political fallout created by District Attorney Steve Cooley’s requesting extradition of Roman Polanski, 32 years too late.

    The Swiss Ministry of Justice spokesperson Folco Galli initially said that former Los Angeles prosecutor Roger Gunson’s testimony was unimportant to the Swiss Justice decision regarding the extradition of Roman Polanski, and the Swiss Spokesperson said Switzerland’s Justice ASSUMED the truth of the current Los Angeles prosecutors’ request.

    But yet after this wonderful announcement – Switzerland’s Ministry of Justice did a 180 degree turnaround.


At which time it seems that the U.S. Justice Department refused Switzerland’s Justice Department’s request for the transcripts of former Los Angeles prosecutor Roger Gunson’s testimony.

    Then in turn the U.S. Justice Department’s refusal to give crucial information to the Swiss Justice Department was in turn used by Switzerland’s Justice Department to refuse the California District Attorney’s extradition request for Roman Polanski,

    and this for Switzerland’s Justice Department was a very convenient way out of a political mess caused by Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley requesting extradition of Roman Polanski 32 years too late so as to:

    a) to bolster Cooley’s political campaign to be the next attorney General of California, and

    b) in retaliation for Roman Polanski exposing Judicial and Prosecutorial corruption in the County of Los Angeles Santa Monica Courthouse, by his flight in 1978 from Los Angeles USA, and through the movie, Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

  5. Dear Richard

    Am still working on the questions! but they are coming soon. will have an important meeting with my tutor on tuesday which will influence the questions. thank you so much again for helping me 🙂

    have one question for you already: can you recommend some “Polanski -case blogs”? (both pro and con Polanski). will need to have both represented in my thesis…

    best greetings from Norway

  6. thank you! knew about the tenant of chinatown – makes an impressive reading.

    do you know about any that are standing against polanski? knowing my tutor, it will be good to present her with some options. tried to search a little in wordpress but not so much came up

  7. Richard, another masterpiece. However, I do have to take issue with one aspect of this case and your blog piece here. It’s in the matter of blaming the mother and the ‘victim’. You say that’s out of bounds, I say it’s not. One should question the ethics of a mother who would allow her daughter to go off alone with someone who it was known had just concluded a relationship with the young Natassja Kinski the previous year. Susan Gailey knew about this, or at least should have. The eldest daughter, Kim, was involved with someone attached to Polanski’s inner circle and would have known about this. Also as you Max Keiser said about it being known Polanski had begun having sexual relations with women not long after Sharon Tate’s murder. Susan Gailey would have known this, so if Samantha was her oh so precious little angel, then why allow her off with a man with this kind of reputation?

    Another factor missed by almost all the mainstream editorials you culled together here, is the fact that Samantha Geimer under her own testimony, had said she’d had taken Quaaludes before, alcohol before, had sex before. Where was her mother while she was engaging in this behaviour, by her own admission, before she was 10! Her elder sister had been in and out of rehab for Quaalude addiction. Susan Gailey’s boyfriend had drug paraphernalia all around the house. It was also noted by one of Gunson’s aids while Susan Gailey was in Gunson’s office giving an interview, noticed Gailey’s boyfriend and Samantha engaging in what he called ‘intimate’ contact. He was so disturbed by it he went to Rittenband to report it, but Rittenband ignored it. So Susan Gailey has to be taken to task for her parenting skills as much as Polanski has to be for his indiscretion. Susan Gailey had even sent Samantha off with another photographer, Sean Kinney, the previous December to take a series of ‘resume’ shots that produced that infamous ‘Schoolgirl with the Books’ shot that’s been distributed worldwide of Samantha looking seductively back over her shoulder.

    The other aspect of this case that has been ignored by the mainstream press is the serious lack of evidence against Polanski. The Smoking Gun Dot Com plastered the more damning pages of the Grand Jury hearing across their website, plus Polanski’s allocution when he accepted the plea, whish we all know who actually have studied this case, was scripted by Rittenband. According to the sworn testimony by Dr. Edward Larson who performed the physical rape kit exam on Samantha Geimer, he found her to be perfectly in tact as far as her anal area, and no bruising or tears or hematomas that should have been there had there been this double anal rape testified to by Geimer. Larson also took scrapings in the form of swabs that were sent to CSU Tech Lee Mann who testified that he found nothing denoting blood, semen, or saliva in those samples. Nothing. Samantha testified she didn’t take a shower, bath, douche, or enema after the incident she calles a ‘sexual assault’, yet there is no evidence on her body or in her body of rape. Also not noted is how drunk and drugged Samantha actually was. Blood tests for a toxicity is standard during any case where rape is believed, yet there are no reports stating Samantha’s toxicity level. There are no reports connecting Polanski to the spermatozoa found in the panties through blood tests and sub typing which were available at the time.

    My issue with Geimer always has been, no real victim of true rape would ever support their rapist’s cause for freedom from the charges, yet Geimer has campainged to have the charges dropped and the case completely dismissed. I don’t care who one is, if this was supposedly one of the worst things to have happened to her in her life, why come out like she has to see Polanski freed?


    1) Polanski could withdraw his plea and force a full trial.

    2) If 1 occurs, then Samantha Geimer would be called to testify.

    3) If 2, Samantha Geimer either has to refuse to show, in which case she could be held in contempt or compelled to testify as a hostile witness.

    4) If 3, then Samantha Geimer would have to plead the fifth against self incrimiation, which points to another agenda.

    5) If 4, then she could be jailed for refusing to testify, ergo, Contempt.

    6) If 5, then she could be charged with perjury if it is found out any part of her original testimony in the Grand Jury was either made up, or she outwardly lied.

    So to say that Gemier and her mother are not to be questioned, is stating that they are not allowed to be touched under any circumstance whatsoever, even if her initial claims are or can be proven to be lies. Susan Gailey also faces the same jeopardy as her daughter should any impropriety be found in their original statements. Heck, even Samantha Geimer’s statements on the various talk shows she’s appeared on could and can be used to impeach her veracity.

  8. Hi Richard

    President Barack Obama was in Los Angeles today Oct 22nd 2010, for Police Brutality Day.

    I guess he must have got the message above…

  9. More Judicial corruption but this time in another state and with a belt.

    Here is what a County of Lost Arkansas judge can be like with his belt, his mouth and towards his own daughter.

    It is child abuse.

    Warning – Parental Discretion Required for this link below.

  10. Pingback: A new Polish pushes for Polanski ‘s extradition | eats shoots 'n leaves

  11. Pingback: A new Polish push for Polanski’s extradition | eats shoots 'n leaves

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