Polanski bid to dismiss case tied to film - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Polanski bid to dismiss case tied to film

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Posted: Monday, January 19, 2009 8:19 pm | Updated: 1:05 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

LOS ANGELES - Roman Polanski's tumultuous, sometimes tragic life had long seemed destined for a movie of its own.

But no one expected the controversy that erupted when a film finally did appear, a documentary that revealed new information about one of the defining events of the film director's past — his 1977 conviction of raping a 13-year-old girl and his flight into exile.

Armed with disclosures from the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," Polanski's lawyers have gone to court demanding that the still-pending case against him be dismissed because of court misconduct.

Among other things, the documentary says the judge was influenced in his sentencing consideration by a friend. The disclosure stunned both Polanski's lawyers and prosecutors involved in the original case.

A hearing is scheduled Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. Polanski, however, won't even be in the country, a point that prosecutors say means he shouldn't get a hearing.

Polanski's turbulent life story resonates as a piece of Hollywood history and as the sort of story that he has brought to life on the screen.

A native of France who was taken to Poland by his parents, he escaped Krakow's Jewish ghetto as a child and lived off the charity of strangers. His mother died at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

With talent and grit, he worked his way into filmmaking in Poland. His "Knife in the Water" gained an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film in 1964. Coming to Hollywood, he directed the classic "Rosemary's Baby."

But then his life was shattered by new horror in 1969 when his wife, actress Sharon Tate — eight months pregnant with their child — and four other people were gruesomely murdered by followers of Charles Manson.

He went on to make another American classic, "Chinatown," released in 1974.

But in 1977 he was accused of raping a teen while photographing her during a modeling session. The girl said Polanski plied her with Champagne and part of a Quaalude pill at Jack Nicholson's house while the actor was away. She said that, despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her.

The case became an international sensation.

Polanski was allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges, unlawful sexual intercourse, and was sent to prison for 42 days of evaluation.

Lawyers agreed that would be his full sentence, but the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain.

On the day of sentencing, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time and require his voluntary deportation, Polanski fled to France.

His legal team maintains there was prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, that the case was manipulated by the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, and David Wells, a retired prosecutor.

Wells told his story for the first time in the film, acknowledging that he insinuated himself into the Polanski case. He said that as the regular courtroom deputy district attorney for routine cases before Rittenband, he gained the judge's confidence and advised him on sentencing Polanski.

Wells said the publicity conscious judge was afraid he would be criticized for giving Polanski too lenient a sentence. Rittenband has been dead for 15 years.

Wells' story surprised Polanski's prosecutor, retired Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, and retired defense attorney Doug Dalton.

It also became the unexpected centerpiece of the documentary. "I never made the film for this reason," director Marina Zenovich said in a brief telephone interview.

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