The XX Factor

Roman Polanski Is in Big Trouble

Jess, you’re right, this admission by prosecutor David Wells that he lied in the Roman Polanski case is insane. Unless I’m missing something, the whole basis for dismissing the rape charges against Polanski just collapsed. When the director was arrested last week, I assumed he’d spend a week or two in prison and head on home. Now there’s a slam-dunk way for him to get three years without the rape charges.

Marcia Clark (I haven’t heard that name in a while) lays it out in the Daily Beast as she breaks the news that Wells lied. David Wells was a bystander prosecutor in L.A. at the time Polanski was charged, though not the lawyer who handled the director’s case. In 2008, Wells told the maker of the documentary about Polanski that back in 1977 he’d had a private tete a tete with the judge in the case, Laurence Rittenband, about how to send Polanski back to prison. At that point, Rittenband had already accepted a plea bargain sentencing Polanski to 90 days for diagnostic testing. The communication between Wells and Rittenband would have been improper, because the parties to the case weren’t there. Judges don’t have to accept plea bargains because prosecutors ask them to. They absolutely have the authority not to. But judges aren’t supposed to send people back to prison after they’ve accepted a plea bargain and a punishment has been served - that’s like double jeopardy for sentencing. So this story was supposed to be grounds for dismissing the case against Polanski. His lawyers argued that after the documentary came out and the new judge on the case seemed ready to go for it, if Polanski would just show up in his courtroom. Rittenband is dead and couldn’t defend himself.

But now Wells says that what really happened is that he simply brought a newspaper photo to Rittenband’s bailiff that showed Polanski out and about in less than six weeks. When Rittenband saw the picture he got mad and said he was sending Polanski to state prison. Polanski found out and fled. Nothing improper on the judge’s part here. Could Rittenband really have sent Polanski back to prison? Clark says no, and I think she’s right. Not without getting Polanski to withdraw the plea bargain, anyway. But the judge didn’t actually do anything to sentence Polanksi to more time, so this point just hurts Polanski more, because he left the country without putting Rittenband’s threat to the test.

The LAT’s Jack Leonard says there’s more to the judicial misconduct allegations Polanski’s lawyers made against Rittenband. But they seem to all be about the plea bargain and supposed bias against Polanski. What bias, based on what, other than Wells’ lie? And now the D.A.’s office can ask to withdraw the plea bargain because Polanski fled. Plus he’s facing three years, separate from the rape charges, for failing to appear in court. Which he certainly did not.