Justice Delayed

Why Roman Polanski cannot win.

By 5.7.10

It looks as if film director Roman Polanski still thinks he is above the law. This week he launched a publicity offensive, charging California authorities with various errors in their effort to extradite him from Switzerland to face sentencing on a 33-year-old case in which he pled guilty, then fled the country just before being sentenced.

Recently, Polanski's lawyers thought they were getting him a get-out-of-jail-free card when they petitioned California's 2nd District Court of Appeals that he be sentenced in the child sex case while he is under house arrest at his home in Gstaad, Switzerland. No such luck. 

By turning down the famous director, the court, in effect, paved the way for Swiss authorities to honor California's extradition order and send Polanski back to the Golden State to face justice -- at last.

In 1977 Polanski had sex with a then-13-year-old girl. Under California law, it was statutory rape, though he pled guilty to a lesser offense. Shortly before his sentencing in Los Angeles he fled to France and has never returned. Washing his hands of this act of cowardice, he has continued making films and garnering awards. Indeed, it was when he went to Switzerland to accept an award last year that he was arrested on the strength of the extradition request.

The Swiss locked him up for four months. Then, since early this year the authorities allowed him to stay in custody under house arrest at his comfortable digs in Gstaad. The Swiss Ministry of Justice said it would delay a decision on extradition until after the California courts had ruled. While Polanski's lawyers may appeal the latest ruling to the state supreme court, their case isn't a strong one. Nevertheless, even if such an appeal were to prove to be a fool's errand the lawyers would remain well paid by their famous client.

Polanski's victim, now a middle-aged woman, has publicly asked that the courts "turn the page" on the matter. If he had been sentenced and served whatever time was required, the matter would have been put behind all parties several decades ago. As it is, justice has been delayed for 43 years and, as the saying goes, "justice delayed is justice denied."

Why did Polanski do it in the first place? For the same reason Eliot Spitzer patronized call girls, Mark Sanford carried on an affair with a Buenos Aires mistress and John Edwards sired a child with a campaign videographer: hubris, ego, self-importance, a sense of complete entitlement. Fame had made their heads swell to the point where they believed they were immunized from society's norms. As has been shown many times, however, whenever a famous person decides that the rules to not apply to him, reality is always just around the corner.

Polanski is now 77 years old. If he is extradited and the sentence is limited to time served (42 days of an original evaluation in California and the several months in Swiss custody) plus, say, a year more in a California prison, and he publicly admits his guilt and apologizes to his victim, justice will finally have been served.

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About the Author

Peter Hannaford, who died on September 5,  was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. His most recent book, Washington Merry-Go-Round: The Drew Pearson Diaries, 1960-69, of which he is editor, has just been published.