A Los Angeles judge pulled back a promise that he would not jail Roman Polanski for sexually abusing a teen girl in 1977, a former prosecutor testified years ago, leading the famed director to flee the US decades ago.
The previously sealed testimony of former Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson revealed that in 2010 the judge reneged on a promise to let Polanski go free after county probation and state prison officials decided he should not be imprisoned.
“The judge had promised him on two occasions … something that he reneged on,” Gunson said. “So it wasn’t surprising to me that, when he was told he was going to be sent off to state prison … that he could not or would not trust the judge.”
The transcript of Gunson’s testimony was ordered to be made public by a California appeals court Wednesday after the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office dropped objections to its release.
Polanski’s attorney said his client was “ecstatic” with the latest revelation as it backs up Polanski’s claim he was not getting a fair deal when he fled before sentencing in 1978.
Lawyer Harland Braun said Monday he’s pushing to have Polanski sentenced to time served stemming from a prison evaluation in 1977 and house arrest in Switzerland decades later.
“He’s waiting to see what happens next,” Braun said. “This is the first chance that he’s really had in this case.”
Braun said Polanski, 88, should be sentenced without appearing in court, which prosecutors have rejected in the past. Braun fears he’ll be taken into custody as a fugitive if he returns.
Polanski was accused of giving a 13-year-old teen girl champagne and part of a sedative before forcing her to have sex in March 1977. She testified before a grand jury she didn’t fight him because she was afraid, but her mother later called the police.
But the girl wouldn’t testify in court and Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor as long as prosecutors dropped rape, sodomy and drug charges.
The Oscar winning director was tossed as a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2018 at the height of the #MeToo movement, but has sidestepped legal trouble with France, Switzerland and Poland all rejecting requests to extradite him to the United States.
The judge on the case, Laurence Rittenband, who is dead, was swayed by the publicity attached to the case and kept changing his mind about Polanski’s potential punishment, Braun said.
Rittenband said if Polanski received a favorable report from the prison he was sent to for a 90-day evaluation after probation officials said he should serve jail time, he would not serve any more time, Gunson said.
But after prison officials recommended he only serve probation, Rittenband believed reports from probation and prison officials were a “whitewash,” Gunson said.
Rittenband said he would sentence him up to a longer prison term – Polanski could have faced 50 years, Gunson said – but that he would cut him loose after serving 120 days. Gunson said he opposed the “sham” proceeding by the judge even if he agreed to probation and prison officials downplayed the crimes.
“Roman says, ‘How can I trust the judge that’s lied twice?’ So he takes off to Europe,” Braun said.
Polanski’s lawyers heard Gunson’s testimony at the time, but could not use it in court because it was then sealed.
The victim, Samantha Geimer, has previously fought for the case to be tossed or for Polanski to be sentenced without being present in court.
“I implore you to consider taking action to finally bring this matter to a close as an act of mercy to myself and my family,” Geimer told a judge five years ago.
Polanski agreed to pay Geimer $600,000 in 1993 to settle a lawsuit.
Prosecutors have regularly objected to releasing sealed testimony, but reversed course earlier this week because Geimer had pushed for the transcript to be made public.
“This case has been described by the courts as ‘one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history,’” Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “For years, this office has fought the release of information that the victim and public have a right to know.”
With Post wires