Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Our Betters in Europe, of course, are outraged that Switzerland arrested and may allow the extradition of film director Roman Polanski, 76, a fugitive from California justice after he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in 1977.
The French culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, sniffed, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face." A petition signed by European filmmakers huffed at the impropriety of arresting Polanski on his way to accept a film industry lifetime achievement award.
Everyone sympathizes with Polanski because he has prevailed, despite the Holocaust, which claimed his mother, and the Manson murder spree, which claimed his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969. But just because Polanski has made some great movies, that doesn't mean he should get away with rape.
Explaining her outrage at the arrest, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote, "The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children."
And: "He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers' fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar."
This is the crime the French believe is ugly to prosecute: Polanski first plied a ninth-grader with champagne and Quaalude, then raped and sodomized her. Even after she forgave Polanski, victim Samantha Geimer told CNN that she told Polanski, "No," but the 43-year-old director did not stop. You can't call that a victimless crime that sophisticated adults can overlook.
The 2008 HBO documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," made a case that Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, now deceased, may have crossed the line when he signaled that he would not adhere to a plea agreement where Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex in exchange for a sentence of 42 days already served.
In February, the Los Angeles Times reported, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza found "substantial" evidence of judicial misconduct -- but rightly, he would not throw out the case because Polanski was a fugitive. Ironically, this arrest could lead to Polanski beating the rap.
"You know what? The man is dead," responded Sandi Gibbons, a Los Angeles County district attorney spokeswoman over the phone. "None of this erases the fact that Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to a felony crime and he chose to flee the United States prior to being sentenced."
It's ironic that Polanski's career took off with 1974's "Chinatown," a film about moneyed interests corrupting Los Angeles criminal justice system. Polanski's villain was an older man with moneybags and taste for a young thing.
Now his fans advocate special treatment -- the evasion of punishment for the new-money maven who could afford to jet off to France to avoid punishment -- while the full weight of the law falls on those without his money.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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