Should Roman Polanski Be Held Accountable to His Own Guilty Plea?


As noted in today's links, film director Roman Polanski was arrested over the weekend in Zurich and is being held in Switzerland pending an extradition request from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

In 1978, Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor (a 13-year-old girl who he gave drugs and booze to and who testified she had repeatedly said no during the act) and then skipped out of the country before his sentencing. For details and context surrounding the Polansky case, read Bill Wyman's eviscerating review of the 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Wyman argues convincingly that the film whitewashes the details of the rape and is essentially an apologia for the famous director. Which means the film is of a piece with much of the media's treatment of Polanski (typically as a deeply troubled but ultimately misunderstood sprite;see image, for example).

The Los Angeles Times has published a strange piece attacking California's justice system for bothering to go after Polanski in times of fiscal crisis:

With the state Legislature forced to make dramatic cuts in the prison budget and a three-judge federal panel having recently ordered California lawmakers to release as many as 40,000 inmates in response to the scandalous overcrowding of the California state prison system, it seems like an especially inauspicious time for the L.A. County district attorney's office to be spending some of our few remaining tax dollars seeing if it can finally, after all these years, put Roman Polanski behind bars.

Whole thing here. This strikes me  as an incredibly lame argument (indeed, it's simply the inverse of the old Washington monument ploy, when the feds respond to any potential cut in revenue by claiming they will have to shut down the Washington monument first) and one predicated upon an overriding empathy for an artiste who is perceived as having been unfairly hounded into self-imposed exile due to uptight bourgeois morality. I'm curious as to whether the LA Times would be similarly disposed if the guilty party had been, say, a Catholic priest? Or whether, as Patterico notes, the Times would describe a priest who had pled guilty merely as "accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl," as the Times just did in a headline? 

There are arguments against continuing to pursue Polanski, not least of which is the fact that he made a civil settlement with his now-middle-aged victim who has publicly forgiven him. So some measure of restitution has been acheived. But the idea that California is in a budget crisis surely isn't a legitimate reason to forego legal action against a non-consensual crime.

Update: In shocking conformity to Hollywood uber Alles mentality, HuffPost bloggers line up squarely behind Polanski. Examples:

Arresting Roman Polanski the other day in Zurich, where he was to receive an honorary award at a film festival, was disgraceful and unjustifiable….

The 13-year old model "seduced" by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California. (It's probably 13 by now!) Polanski was demonized by the press, convicted, and managed to flee, fearing a heavy sentence.

I met Polanski shortly after he fled America and was filming Tess in Normandy. I was working in the CBS News bureau in Paris, and I accompanied Mike Wallace for a Sixty Minutes interview with Polanski on the set. Mike thought he would be meeting the devil incarnate, but was utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence.

Joan Z. Shore, Women Overseas for Equality

The story of what Polanski suffered even before the unspeakable trauma of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate butchered in the spooky twilight of the turbulent Sixties makes me believe that overall, he's as much victim as predator himself. 

Can you imagine living in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and at the tender age of ten watching both your parents shuttled off to concentration camps, only to have your mother die in one?…

I can't help musing that here in America, we drove away Chaplin for all those years, and though Polanski's crime was much harsher and more defined, I, for one, would welcome having him back among us once he's paid his debt to society. Maybe he could even help us make better movies again.

Of course, the diminutive Pole has had his share of stinkers (example: 1988's Frantic was most ordinary)….

John Farr, "Writer, editor and lecturer on timeless film" (actual bio line at HuffPost)