Writing The End to the Roman Polanski affair

Henry Champ on not whether but when Roman Polanski will face the music.

First we must get the reality separated from all the conjecture and noise that is surrounding the Roman Polanski affair.

As things now stand, Polanski is in prison in Switzerland as Swiss authorities wait for a formal extradition request from the U.S. The Americans have until late November to file that request.

Polanski's lawyers have asked for the movie director's immediate release from prison, offering to accept house arrest. But legal experts say that since Polanski has already proven to be a flight risk that is unlikely.

Predictions abound on how many months of legal efforts it might take to free Polanski.

Then: Roman Polanski, 43, in 1977, entering court in Santa Monica, Calif., where he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. (Associated Press)

But in the end, the prevalent view is that Polanski is going to be taken to Los Angeles, where he will immediately be sentenced for his 1977 conviction of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and charged with flight from justice.

He will then go to jail.

Lapse of morality

In the movie capitals of the world, campaigns are being mounted to try to keep Polanski from jail.

The argument here is that the director is 76 and that his life should be measured by his body of work, not a one-time lapse of morality.

Movies such as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby are classics. But Polanski's arrest back in 1977 involved six charges, including sodomy and the drugging of a minor for sex.

Had he been found guilty of all charges he could easily have been sentenced to life in prison.

The facts here — that he raped and sodomized a 13-year-old girl in the Los Angeles home of Jack Nicholson — have not been challenged in court by Polanski. (Nicholson was away at the time.)

He gave the girl champagne and Quaaludes during a supposed photo shoot and he repeatedly refused her pleas to be let go. The entire incident lasted four hours.

His lawyers arranged a plea bargain that saw Polanski serve 46 days in prison for psychiatric observation after which he was to plead guilty to the single charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse."

Their assumption was that the 46 days would be the entire penalty.

Polanski had been allowed to go to Europe after his brief prison stint and was to return to Los Angeles for sentencing.

Roman Polanski today: shown here at the Marrakech Film Festival in November 2008. (Abdeljalil Bounhar/Associated Press)

He subsequently said that he learned the judge was going to "tack on more prison time" and he bolted to France, where he had citizenship.

There has never been any corroboration from Los Angeles legal authories that the judge intended to change the plea bargain.

Puritanical America

In Europe, Polanski has many supporters, including some very high-up people in the French government, although President Nicolas Sarkozy has so far been silent on the issue.

The French press has been on about Americans having a more puritanical view of the world than the sophisticated French.

But that is clearly an elitist view. Polls in France indicate that the majority feel Polanski should return to Los Angeles to face the music.

The victim, now a 45-year-old mother of three, says she wants the charges dismissed.

Samantha Geimer has not retracted her original testimony in any way, testimony that Polanski agreed in court was true. But she now says she doesn't want to be seen as a victim and she wants the ordeal to end.

In fact, earlier this year, well before Polanski's arrest in Switzerland, she filed a formal appeal to the Los Angeles prosecutor's office asking for the charges to be dropped. A few years ago, she sued the filmmaker and received an undisclosed settlement.

Public opinion

One can certainly sympathize with this woman, but she is no longer central to this case. She will never have to appear or testify in court again.

Polanski is dealing with sentencing from the original plea and the new charge of flight from justice, which U.S. legal authorities have been pursuing for decades now.

But Geimer does have a central place in public opinion and it is more than just symbolic.

For generations, women have suffered unfairly in rape cases, particularly at the hands of the courts. The onus of guilt was often shifted to the woman under the phrases "she should have known better" or, even worse, " she asked for it."

These ugly phrases and the often lack of support from the police and courts caused untold numbers of women to suffer in silence rather than seek justice in a public forum.

Fortunately, things are changing, but not far enough nor fair enough. Polanski's efforts to avoid prison —coupled with all the prominent people who are rushing to support him — are a reminder to many women of the unfairness of both public sentiment and the legal system.

There have been been many efforts by Polanski supporters to bend public opinion over the years. He has certainly had an extraordinary life: his mother died in Auschwitz; his wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charlie Manson's gang of mad killers in 1969.

In 2008, an HBO documentary titled Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired raised charges of misconduct and manipulation during Polanski's trial by the sitting judge. That judge died a number of years ago.

Polanski's lawyers in Los Angeles took many of those charges to court seeking to overturn his sentence. The judge in that case said there some potential areas of misconduct but that without Polanski in court to testify the effort failed.

This may be Hollywood, but the courts are not prepared to have you send along one of your aides to deal with the judge.

It is often said that the mills of justice grind slowly and they will in this case as well.

But fast forward a bit and Polanski will be heading to Los Angeles. Notwithstanding the support he has on the red carpets, it will be he and a sentencing judge who will put THE END to this sordid affair.