After 30 years' exile, Polanski challenges US rape charge

Film director claims new evidence proves he was the victim of 'judicial misconduct'

By Guy Adams
Thursday 04 December 2008 01:00

Thirty years after Roman Polanski admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl, lawyers for the still-unapologetic film director have asked a Los Angeles judge to dismiss the charge of statutory rape against him.

The Oscar-winning director, who has been unable to set foot in America since 1978, claims that new evidence shows he was the victim of "judicial misconduct" during the trial in which he pleaded guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor.

Attorneys acting for Polanski, 72, filed a 30-page lawsuit at Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday alleging that "repeated, unlawful and unethical misconduct" by a prosecutor and the trial judge meant the case should now be dropped "in the interests of justice".

They quoted "extraordinary new evidence" from the recent HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, in which LA's former deputy district attorney David Wells admitted discussing the case with Judge Lawrence Rittenband during proceedings, an apparent contravention of protocol.

The legal bid marks the latest twist in one of Hollywood's longest-running soap operas, which began in 1977 when Polanski was arrested for having sex with Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old model he had hired for a magazine photo shoot. He was accused of plying the girl with the sedative Quaaludes and several glasses of champagne, before taking her into a hot tub and having sex with her at the actor Jack Nicholson's house in the Hollywood hills.

Polanski, whose private life had previously been in the news after his wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by followers of Charles Manson, was initially indicted on six felony counts and faced up to life in prison.

But in a plea-bargain that left five of the counts dismissed, he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse. Soon afterwards, he absconded to France, which has highly limited extradition agreements with the USA.

The judge issued a warrant for his arrest that is still in effect, and could be enacted the moment Polanski sets foot in the country. The maximum sentence for his crime was 50 years, although prosecutors say the typical sentence would be 16 months to three years.

In some industries, paedophilia would ruin a man's career. But Polanski has remained a popular figure in some Hollywood circles, where many seem bemused by all the fuss and believe he was the victim of a media vendetta. He has continued to direct successful films from Europe, and in 2002 was awarded his first Oscar, for The Pianist, while in exile. He had been nominated for an Academy Award for Tess, Chinatown, and Rosemary's Baby.

Despite having admitted having sex with a 13-year-old, Polanski has made repeated attempts to ensure that his apparent sexual peccadillos do not overshadow his legacy as one of the world's greatest directors.

In 2004, he successfully sued Vanity Fair magazine in London over an article that wrongly claimed he had made sexual advances to a young model on the way to Sharon Tate's funeral. He was awarded £50,000 in damages after appearing via video link to testify at the High Court, fearing that he would be extradited if he set foot on British soil. The actress Mia Farrow gave evidence in his support.

Following the case, which was described as a pressing example of "libel tourism", Vanity Fair's editor Graydon Carter said: "I find it astonishing that a man who lives in France can sue a magazine that is published in America in a British courtroom."

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