Los Angeles County's top prosecutor said Thursday that his office isn't persecuting Roman Polanski, but is merely trying to resolve a case delayed by the director's flight from the country in 1978.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley declined to speculate on what sentence his office might seek if and when Polanski is returned to Los Angeles. The "Chinatown" director was arrested in Switzerland on Saturday and is challenging extradition to the United States.
Cooley deflected criticism that has been leveled by French officials and some of Hollywood's elite that continuing to press the case against Polanski is vindictive.
"I don't persecute anybody and it's a matter of court processes being concluded," Cooley said. "There's a Superior Court bench warrant outstanding, it's been executed and there will be further court proceedings."
While Polanski's case has brought impassioned pleas for his release from French officials and Hollywood elite, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he shouldn't expect special treatment. Schwarzenegger said Thursday on CNN that he was an admirer of Polanski's work, but believes the director's case should be treated the same as any other criminal matter.
"It doesn't matter if it's Roman Polanski or anyone else, I think that those things should be treated like anyone else," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a big-time movie director."
Asked if he would consider a pardon, Schwarzenegger said he receives many such requests and would give no special consideration to one by Polanski.
The 76-year-old "Chinatown" director fled the United States in 1978, hours before he was to be sentenced after he pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has made several attempts to have Polanski arrested abroad since the director fled, including three times since Cooley took office in 2000.
Case could be resolved ‘within days’
District Attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons has said the office was informed of Polanski's travel to Switzerland on Sept. 22, four days before he was arrested. Neither he nor Gibbons would disclose how the district attorney learned of Polanski's whereabouts, and only would say that they "received word" that day.
She wrote in an e-mail response to questions that the decision to pursue Polanski's arrest was made by the office's staff in charge of extraditions. The tipoff to Polanski's trip gave prosecutors ample time to get a provisional arrest warrant to officials in Washington, D.C., who then forwarded it through diplomatic channels.
Gibbons wrote that the case could be resolved "within days" if Polanski waived his extradition fight and agreed to return to Los Angeles for sentencing.
Cooley declined to describe his office's efforts to capture Polanski in any more detail on Thursday.
"We're doing our job," he said. "We know how to extradite people and they're going to process it according to the standards set by the extradition treaty between the United States of America and Switzerland. It's just a process."
He also responded to remarks minimizing Polanski's actions, including a column by film executive Harvey Weinstein in Britain's The Independent newspaper calling the director's conduct "so-called crimes."
"Mr. Polanski pled guilty to a crime, so apparently to Mr. Polanski there was a crime and there's still five or six other much more serious charges pending that are yet to be resolved," Cooley said Thursday. "They won't be resolved until he's finally sentenced."
Victim wants ordeal to be over
Polanski was accused of plying the 13-year-old girl with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977 and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.
He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse; in exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. However, he was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again. The judge responded by saying he was going to send Polanski back to jail for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a "voluntary deportation." Polanski then fled the country Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced to the additional time.
Polanski's lawyers have recently filed for dismissal, based in part on allegations of misconduct brought to light in an HBO documentary last year that suggested behind-the-scenes manipulations by the judge, now deceased, and a prosecutor not assigned to the case.
That motion was dismissed because Polanski was a fugitive, though the judge acknowledged "substantial misconduct" in the original case. It's now in the hands of an appeals court.
The former prosecutor, David F. Wells, said Wednesday that he lied to the makers of the film "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" about his interactions with the judge. He said he lied because he was told the film wouldn't air in the United States, an assertion denied by the film's director on Thursday.
"He signed a release like all my other interviewees, giving me permission to use his interview in the documentary worldwide," director Marina Zenovich wrote in a statement. "At no time did I tell him that the film would not air in the United States."
She said she conducted an hourlong interview with Wells in 2005 and that until Wednesday, he had never challenged the accuracy of the film or his claims.
"I am astonished that he has now changed his story," Zenovich wrote. "It is a sad day for documentary filmmakers when something like this happens."
Cooley declined to comment on Wells' remarks on Thursday, saying they may become part of future court hearings.