Published February 18, 2009
The move to bring director Roman Polanski back to the United States pretty much ended yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles Superior Court.
That’s because Judge Peter Espinoza—nevertheless acknowledging that there had been “misconduct” by the court in the handling of Polanski’s infamous teen rape case from 1977—dismissed a motion to dismiss the 32-year-old case against the Oscar winning director of such classic films as “The Pianist,” “Chinatown,” and “Rosemary’s Baby”— that turned him into a fugitive from the U.S.
The long and winding case against Polanski, an important film director with many influential supporters in Hollywood, took an interesting turn last year when a new documentary by Marina Zenovich claimed judicial malfeasance back in 1978 caused him essentially to be railroaded out of the United States.
That hasn’t stopped the revered 75-year-old director from working. He’s currently filming “The Ghost” in Germany with Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall and Ewan MacGregor.
And I’m told exclusively by sources that Polanski’s next film will be “God of Carnage,” based on the new Yazmin Reva “comedy of manners” just about to open on Broadway with James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, and Jeff Daniels.
What made yesterday’s hearing so unusual was the appearance of Polanski’s defense attorney from the 1978 case, Douglas Dalton, who passionately argued for Polanski’s side. On top of that, an attorney for the victim in the case, Samantha Geimer, then 13 and now 45, appeared to help Polanski’s side as well. Geimer was the girl whom Polanski, then in his 40s, was arrested for raping. He was ultimately convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
What most people don’t realize is that Polanski served 42 days in prison under a plea bargain. When the now deceased judge in the case, Lawrence Rittenband, went back on his word and threatened to increase Polanski’s jail time, the director fled to France. Zenovich’s film, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” uncovered a slew of new charges against Rittenband. Judge Espinoza conceded yesterday that after watching film he agreed there had been “substantial misconduct that occurred in the pendency of this case.”
It was kind of a crazy Catch-22 of a hearing, as the basic element of the Polanski case persists: the court insists the director must return to the United States to get the charges against him dismissed, and cannot simply have his lawyers argue the case without him. However, as Judge Espinoza pointed out, the minute Polanski arrives at a U.S. airport he will be arrested as a fugitive. And while the old charges would likely be dismissed, there’s no guarantee of it. A media circus would accompany his arrival and arrest.
Some people in court, including Loyola University law expert Laurie Levenson and much respected Associated Press court reporter Linda Deutsch interpreted Judge Espinoza’s comments about the 1977 misconduct as a “ray of light” for Polanski.
But a source close to the director, now shooting “The Ghost” with Brosnan and Cattrall in Germany, told me there was no chance he would return to the United States under these conditions. “Why would he take the chance?” the source asked.
Judge Espinoza gave Polanski’s lawyers until May 7th to decide if the director would return to the U.S.
Polanski, however, won’t be doing that. In his papers to have the old case dismissed based on the documentary’s findings, the director’s new attorney, Chad Hummel, charged even new problems with the case in the Los Angeles court system.
Hummel wrote in his motion to dismiss the old case: “Following the release of the Documentary, the Los Angeles Superior Court has engaged in a course of conduct of issuing false statements with no factual support, denying fairness by ignoring facts readily available which are contrary to its assertions, violating its own Rules of Judicial Conduct…”
A hot button issue in the case came when a statement at the end of the documentary had to be removed just before the film’s release last year. The statement claimed that back in 1997, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler insisted in a closed door session that Polanski’s case could only be resolved if he returned and had a televised trial.
But the Los Angeles Superior Court heard of the statement they pounced on the filmmakers and insisted that they remove it. Despite assertions from Dalton, Polanski’s lawyer, and the prosecutor at the time, Roger Gunson, that this conversation had occurred with Judge Fidler, the court claimed it hadn’t. Files recording the original meeting and two more alleged meetings between Fidler and the lawyers are claimed to have “gone missing” subsequently.
Judge Fidler also presided over record producer Phil Spector’s original botched murder case, the one that ended in a mistrial last year. The cause of actress Lana Clarkson’s death at Spector’s house four years ago consequently remains unresolved. A new trial will commence shortly.
In the end, Judge Espinoza’s ruling was a disappointment for Polanski’s supporters—who include Geimer. Espinoza, they feel, could have ended a 32-year nightmare that now includes substantiated claims of court “misconduct.” Instead, the situation remains a stalemate, with Polanski able to travel the world with the exception of the U.S. and Great Britain.
Oscar Week is here, and so are the stars. Many of them are staying at the Chateau Marmont including last year’s Best Actress Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose). I ran into her last night in the lobby of the famed West Hollywood hotel. She told me she’s been so busy making films since she won the Oscar “I haven’t been home in a year!” Cotillard will present an award on Sunday’s show although she’s not sure which one or what point in the proceedings. “They haven’t told us anything yet!”…
…Meantime, Sharon Stone, looking smashing in Dior, arrived for a Dior dinner on the Chateau patio for a select group of stars and executives. She showed me a Dior watch so indestructible that she was able to throw it across the hotel’s stone floor and not have it break. In a hilarious move right out of a Robert Altman movie, actor Andre Royo, of “The Wire” TV show, who happened to be sitting on a couch in the lobby, saw the watch skiddle across the floor, ran, grabbed it and pretended it to steal it with excellent comic timing. Sharon looked momentarily horrified, but all was well…
…Modern stripper Dita von Teese put on a hot show in Beverly Hills for photographer Amanda Eliasch’s book launch. Among the guests: British actors Ben Chaplin and Jared Harris, the latter enjoying kudos for his sea captain turn in “Benjamin Button”…
..And Soho House is back in town, this time as a new restaurant called Cecconi’s. The Soho House group always stages something exciting during Oscar week. This year they’ve completely rebuilt the old Morton’s restaurant on Melrose and Robertson into a Fifties style Italian grotto with a tasty menu. Last night’s soft opening was totally sold out, with lots of actors and agents packing the room as if it had been there for years. By tonight, Cecconi’s should be a mob scene. Unlike previous Soho House Oscar events, this one will continue after the show. Check off Cecconi’s as Hollywood’s new must see-scene hot spot…How do you know? Well, Kathy and Rick Hilton came to check it out. Paris and Nicky are surely next…