Grant Walliser
Grant Walliser

Kangaroo courts part 1: The Polanski case

Every so often we are faced with a news story that divides opinion and causes heavy debate. In these cases, emotion often rules supreme and otherwise pleasant people become laptop dictators demanding justice and punishment. They seldom know more than the basic public stance, cry righteous indignation without a semblance of objectivity, and the baying mob forms.

Two such cases are currently being heavily debated in the media. The first is the subject of this blog and is the arrest and trial of Roman Polanski. The second which will hopefully form the basis of my next blog is the current fracas surrounding the Reitz 4 at the University of the Free State.

Polanski was born on 18 August 1933 in France to a Polish Jewish father and a Russian Catholic mother. They moved back to Poland in 1936, just in time for the outbreak of World War II. You don’t get worse timing or placement than that.

The Germans invaded when Polanski was 6 years old and interred his family in the Krakow ghetto. His father survived Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. His mother did not survive Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Young Roman escaped the ghetto in 1943 after four years of hell and was hidden by Catholic families until the end of the war.

He later became a film-maker to almost instant acclaim (his first full-length movie was nominated for an academy award) and is considered by many to be the best of his generation. It should already be obvious why Polanski had something to say on the big screen but that was only the start to an incredibly turbulent life which you can read about in full here.

He married actress Sharon Tate in 1968. She was 25 years old at the time. He was 35. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their first baby a year later when she and others at her house in Hollywood became the random tragic victims of members of Charles Manson’s gang. She pleaded for the life of her unborn child but they butchered her anyway, stabbing her 16 times, killing her and the baby. The full story is truly horrific.

Polanski was obviously devastated. In fact, devastated can hardly describe what a man must feel when his wife and unborn child are slaughtered like animals by a cult of serial killers when he is not there to protect them. It is a wholly inadequate word to describe something that I don’t think you ever recover from, especially when you have already survived the Polish ghetto and thought you were now free of this kind of brutality. To make matters worse Polanski himself was suspected of involvement for a while and the usual conservative members of the public blamed the darker subject matter of his movies as motivation for the killings.

In 1976, seven years after the death of his wife and unborn child, Polanski entered into a relationship with Nastassja Kinski who was 15 years old at the time after working with her on a movie.

A year later in 1977 he met Samantha Geimer. She was 13. She was described as a precocious and ambitious teenager. Her mother, an actress, moved in the Hollywood circle. Her ambitious daughter was trying to launch her own modelling and acting career at this early age and her mother somehow introduced her to Polanski who offered to photograph her for a magazine.

Things went pretty wrong from there. Polanski started to meet with Samantha and photograph her. Then one day, he took her to Jack Nicholson’s house, took some photographs of her topless in a Jacuzzi, plied her with champagne and Quaaludes (Mandrax) and had sex with her. It is unclear whether he knew her exact age but I presume he did or at least knew she was very young.

You can read the detailed court transcripts of Samantha’s version of the incident under questioning here.

Samantha’s mother reported the incident to the police and Polanski was arrested and charged for having sex with a minor or “unlawful sexual intercourse”. The trial was a media circus. A recent article in Newsweek describing a documentary by Marina Zenovich about Polanski’s trial and flight from the US, considered to be the definitive story of the incident describes it as follows:

    Polanski pleaded guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse”; probation was the recommendation. But the judge began to manoeuvre behind the scenes: he wanted to look tough for the press, though not necessarily send Polanski to prison. He asked a reporter for advice on what sentence he should give; he gave regular interviews to a Hollywood gossip columnist. The day before the sentencing — despite an agreement with Dalton and Gunson — Rittenband was overheard bragging at his country club that he was going to lock up Polanski for the rest of his life. The next day Polanski was gone, his Mercedes abandoned at the Los Angeles airport. Even the prosecutor now says, “I’m not surprised he left under those circumstances”.

Following a blog here on Thought Leader in which both the author and most of the comments called for Polanski’s head, I found it quite frightening that few people knew much about the case at all. It seems that all that was required to work up the mob was the basic outline of the facts. Creepy old guy rapes beautiful young innocent maiden. End of story. Judge him and send him down for life.

I have a problem with this and I shall try to be as sensitive as possible here for rape is never to be trivialised. I feel that Polanski knew the girl was very young. I feel he should have shown both the responsibility and restraint that a man of his age should possess. I do, however, after reading the court transcripts, reading different versions of the story, trying to understand the motives of the girl for being in the situation, trying to understand the shaping of the life and outlook of Polanski, watching bits of the documentary made by Zenovich feel that there was more to this story. Too many things simply do not add up and I do not believe that the girl was as innocent as she is assumed to be simply by virtue of her age.

And while we are on age …

The age of consent varies quite dramatically depending on where you are in the world. The following map shows this variation.

Age of consent around the world.

In the US alone, the age of consent varies between 16 and 18. That means you can have consensual sex with someone on one side of a state border and it is called statutory rape on the other. Similarly, you can have consensual sex with girl in California who is 17 and 364 days old and you are a criminal whereas if you had waited a day you are perfectly entitled to have said sex on her 18th birthday. Venture just a bit south to Mexico and it gets as low as 12 in certain provinces. What this says about the age of consent is that it varies hugely depending on your cultural and religious views as a society. It also does not take into account the radical differences in maturity between different individuals at different ages. Spain, a member of the EU, sets their age of consent at 13, the age that Samantha Geimer was at the time of the incident. In the Spanish view, Samantha Geimer was old enough to know exactly what she was doing and what sex was all about. In California, where the incident took place, 18 is the age of consent which means she was a full five years away from understanding the implications of sex and being able to make the decision to engage in it or not.

That is hardly clarity on the issue.

The presumption by many is simply that Polanski lured a young, naive girl to a big deserted house, drugged her and raped her; a sexual predator of the worst kind. There are however some other facts not commonly cited or noted by the mob:

1. The girl was ambitious and trying to launch a modelling career. She had stripped and changed in front of Polanski without his request at a previous photo shoot as well as the shoot in question. She later maintained that she was scared of him and that is why she did not stop him having sex with her. Her actions prior to the sexual incident do not really bear that out.

2. The girl’s mother allowed her 13 year old daughter to go with him without supervision more than once. As an actress and Hollywood veteran trying to promote her daughter as a sex symbol on the cover of an international magazine with a man commonly known for his affair with the 15-year-old Kinski only one year earlier, her mother should surely have known the risks. Perhaps she did. Mine certainly would have.

3. The girl had had sex more than once prior to the incident with Polanski (she stated twice). It is not clear with whom and under what circumstances.

4. The girl had taken drugs prior to the incident with Polanski and from the transcripts appeared to have more than a theoretical knowledge of their effects. In fact I have to admit that from the transcripts she knew more about Mandrax at 13, including having taken it before, than I knew at 23.

5. Both the alcohol and the Quaaludes were accepted without argument and were not forced onto her by her own admission. From the transcripts it certainly does appear as if Polanski was the driving force behind the appearance of both the drinks and the drugs. I presume that he was certainly trying to promote a situation in which the relaxation brought on by the drinks and drugs would overcome the barriers that normally inhibit people from having casual sex. What is not clear is if the girl used the drink and drugs for the same Dutch courage.

6. Polanski maintains that the sex was consensual.

Now I don’t know what happened exactly that day between Geimer and Polanski but neither do you. Only they know and they may even have a different view of how it happened. Here are some possible scenarios:

1. Polanski may have lured her to the house under false pretences and forced himself on her. She may have been drugged enough not to be able to resist. Polanski guilty of rape and statutory rape, girl innocent, mother not involved but irresponsible.

2. Samantha may have seduced him, had sex with him willingly. He was a famous film director and she was a precocious, ambitious teenager. It could have been an error of judgement due to the drugs and alcohol followed by guilt and a sense of shock at the reality of what she had done. Polanski guilty of sex with a minor and highly irresponsible, girl highly irresponsible and dishonest after the fact, mother not involved but irresponsible.

3. She could have seduced him at the request of her mother to further her career. Polanski guilty of sex with a minor and highly irresponsible, girl manipulated and guilty, mother guilty.

4. She may have been told by her mother “do whatever he wants, he can make your career” and acted accordingly when the time came not knowing the limits her mother implied in the statement. Polanski guilty of sex with a minor and irresponsible, girl manipulated, mother irresponsible, bad combination of behaviour and poor communication.

5. She could have seduced him knowingly at the request of her mother for the massive settlement she could and did earn. Polanski was an extremely wealthy man. Polanski guilty of sex with a minor and highly irresponsible but also a victim, girl guilty, mother most guilty.

Some of the above scenarios are admittedly more likely than others and no doubt other possibilities exist. None are impossible though.

That Polanski was irresponsible and behaved criminally in having sex with such a young girl is irrefutable. What are unknown are the girl and her mother’s motives and whether they had any influence on his behaviour. What is also unknown is his state of mind at that time. The judge received a probation report and psychiatric evaluation, both indicating that Polanski should not serve jail time:

    “Rittenband responded by ordering the filmmaker to the prison in Chino for a 90-day ‘diagnostic evaluation’ that he said would ‘enable the Court to reach a fair and just decision’. Prison officials released Polanski on January 28 1978, after 42 days and advised the judge that testing indicated his sentence should not include additional prison time. In Rittenband’s chambers with the defence and prosecution present, the judge labelled the prison report ‘a whitewash’ and said he planned to send Polanski back to prison for an additional 48 days if Polanski would voluntarily agree to deportation. Informed of this by his attorney, on February 1 1978, Polanski responded by fleeing to France, just hours before he was to be formally sentenced.”

As mentioned earlier Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse and made an out-of-court settlement with Samantha Geimer. In other words, the two of them, through their lawyers, came to an agreement that suited both of them under the circumstances. Polanski fled essentially because he believed the judge was going to overrule this settlement and incarcerate him as an example anyway. My argument here in his favour, which does not absolve him of his actions in any way but serves to explain his flight, is that Roman Polanski was in a good position to judge just how precarious the rights of an individual can be inside a flawed system. He suffered at the hands of the Nazis and his rape trial was a circus.

What about Samantha Geimer? The fact that the trial was a circus and that the judge seemed to be a publicity-hungry nutcase intent on making his name out of the trial may have prejudiced her chances of seeing justice done too. However, she, through her lawyers reached an agreement with Polanski. This agreement took into account the potential trauma of a trial, the amount of damage she felt she had suffered out of the ordeal and matched them with an amount of money that she agreed to accept to settle the matter. We can argue the ethics of older men having sex with very young women from all the yellow countries on the map until the sun explodes, but that fact is telling.

What is unclear is if Polanski ever paid the settlement amount to her. If he has not, that is unforgivable since his problem with the system does not change the fact that he agreed to pay her the money personally to compensate her for her damages and settle the matter. Of course, if one of the entrapment scenarios played out then I understand his reluctance to pay but that does not absolve him of the legal duty to pay it. The fact is disputed and Polanski and Geimer have said nothing since a civil case in 1993 on the payment issue so he may well have paid it without the fact being made public.

Samantha Geimer has spoken out recently and asked for all charges to be dropped and the case to be dismissed.

What do you think?

115 Responses to “Kangaroo courts part 1: The Polanski case”

  1. julie #

    Michael Murphy: Sorry for missing your post until now. Thank YOU, and I completely agree with the point you bring up about personal responsibility. I think that is really what has been missed in this argument.

    November 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm
  2. John #

    Hmmm, changing names again?
    Julie/jamie/mia/etc…, you certainly transformed this thread into a kindergarten.

    December 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm
  3. Crum #

    Thanks for your insight!

    March 18, 2010 at 5:08 am
  4. Omega #

    It seems that People magazine was onto a Judicial problem in Polanski’s case back in 1977.

    The People magazine article misspelled the Judge’s last name calling the Judge Rittenbrand instead of Rittenband

    See the article at

    http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20068014,00.html

    No matter, Rittenbrand is a better name for the Santa Monica Judge since he unfairly branded Roman Polanski a rapist to People magazine in 1977, before Polanski’s trial by saying “and this doesn’t look like anything other than a routine rape case to me.”

    So here’s the Santa Monica Judge blabbing off his mouth to the press branding Polanski a rapist, in advance of Polanski’s trial, which trial never happened, and the only conviction that Polanski ever received in the Santa Monica Courthouse was for consensual sex with a minor!

    Roman Polanski like everyone else in America is innocent until proven guilty.

    So the Judge on Polanski’s case acted with prejudice against Polanski by giving his decision in advance to the press before the trial ever took place, and the trial never did take place, because of the plea bargain agreement.

    Continued below

    March 20, 2010 at 9:37 am
  5. Omega #

    Continued.

    
Even today the press keep using the word rape, which is inflammatory and is a defamation of Roman Polanski’s character, since that charge was thrown out.

    
Also Polanski was prejudged, unfairly & publicly branded by this Santa Monica Judge Rittenband,

    
just as another victim from same Santa Monica Courthouse has been unfairly publicly stigmatized for reporting official abuse of power that included being sexually molested by a teacher in a California College with the College Police covering up the complaint,

    and then assaulted and battered in a Santa Monica Courtroom in front of the Judge by undocumented white County of Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies (the Judge has since been promoted to the California Court of Appeals 2nd District),

    which stigmatization the 9th Circuit U.S. Federal Court of Appeals affirmed in their unpublished decision of 25th June, 2001.

    Two people unfairly branded by Judges which Judicial abuse first emanated out of the very same Santa Monica Courthouse equals abuse of Official power, discrimination, a double standard in sexual assault cases where the scales of justice are predetermined to swing your way by California ‘s Judges if you happened to be employed by California, but not if you were born in Europe.

    Grant is right – Kangaroo Courts are alive and well in California

    March 20, 2010 at 9:44 am
  6. JWC #

    The corrupt Los Angeles District Attorney’s office needs to finally own up to their foolishness and ineptitude in regards to Roman Polanski’s case (and many other) cases such as this one

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/03/judge-cooleys-retaliation-against-union-members-striking-and-rampant-.html

    The case was settled. The publicity-hungry judge was pressured and cajoled by a member of the DAs office to reject the settlement and impose a much harsher sentence. That former DA now claims he was lying about his conversations with the judge (uh, okay…). The case is tainted. It’s over. All this is just more chest-thumping political theatrics. Why do we always have idiots for District Attorneys in Los Angeles?

    March 20, 2010 at 10:35 am
  7. Bud #

    WB said.”Do you really think Polanski’s arrest emanated from the Los Angeles district attorney’s office?”

    No the first call may have come from higher up because the movie “The Ghost Writer” speaks of Official connections to war crimes, and this possibly could have hit an Official sore spot.

    And talking of war crimes would you rather be oppressed by being a prisoner in Abu Ghraib,

    or by being a young girl in Roman Polanski’s hot tub, which may have been a consensual affair, and thus not true oppression,

    or would you rather be oppressed by being assaulted and battered in a Santa Monica Courtroom California by a number of undocumented white County of Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies and the African American Police Officer defendant in front of the County of Los Angeles Judge, who is now a California Justice, in the very same Santa Monica Courthouse as Roman Polanski.

    for reporting Santa Monica College Officials and their police cover up of sexual assault complaint against a California employed photography instructor that occurred from behind in his color printing darkroom class.

    Bottom line – the amount of oppression that Roman Polanski could bring is rather minor in comparison to the Abuse of Power and Oppression Officials en masse do create under color of law,

    or Officials create through ratifying the “Torture Memos” which then enables Officials to eviscerate people’s civil rights, regardless of whether that torture occurs behind closed doors at the Santa Monica Courthouse, California, or abroad.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:29 am
  8. FB #

    Bud, that’s a whole lot of typing for equating things that have nothing to do with one another.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm
  9. Ron #

    Santa Monica California Courthouse exploits sex cases where foreign born people are not treated equally, so discrimination and racism and unequal treatment occur.

    Because of Santa Monica judicial, prosecutorial and police corruption with staged hearings involving police brutality which results in physical harm and trauma to the victims

    and results in promotion for the Judges to the California Court of Appeal 2nd District

    and promotion for Jay S Bybee for signing the Torture Memos to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals with the nomination by US President Bush

    The corruption, and torture connects quite perfectly.

    April 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm
  10. Barke P. Uptree #

    To The Federal Office Of Switzerland Justice

    Issue: Roman Polanski should be released as soon as possible

    Message Sent 4/9/ 2010

    I stress the Swiss Justice should look very closely at the fact that there are multiple claims of Judicial Corruption at the Santa Monica Courthouse California, which are comig from other sources other than Roman Polanski.

    Thus the Swiss Federal Office of Justice should take these other instances of Judicial & police Corruption into consideration and release Roman Polanski as soon as possible, since the California Justice system is not trustworthy.

    There are witnesses to a double standard being applied in California’s Courts, and that sexual molestation cases are being exploited by the California authorities, depending on who is involved. The bias seems to go against those born in other countries. And the police and Judges will cover up sexual assault by employees at California’s Colleges and assault and batter the victims of sexual molestation.

    April 10, 2010 at 11:33 am
  11. Silverine #

    The first appearance of Polanski in Switzerland is at a Jazz Festival where his wife Emmanuelle Seigner is singing music from Rosemary’s Baby!

    Coincidence? No!

    It took Swiss Justice to say NO to the devil of injustice that lives on in the Santa Monica, courtroom, assisted by Federal Court Judges, Magistrates, including those who ratified the Torture Memos,

    which means that sexual assault victims who have been re-victimized by police assault and battery, and Santa Monica Judges covering up, are then victimized again by Federal Judges with Pony show decisions, using bait and switch justice, over 12 years to continue the torture.

    33 years later thanks to Swiss Justice, Polanski was rescued, when American justice failed.

    In refusing to extradite Polanski, and by not pandering to California’s DOUBLE STANDARD, Swiss Justice also assisted sexual assault victims in California

    A Santa Monica Judge permitted bait and switch justice and police thuggery in his Courtroom that injured a sexual assault victim,

    in Roman Polanski’s case bait and switch justice was used also to break the plea bargain agreement.

    Can you see the devil yet? It is the unreliable American Justice in the next room, who wants to suck the life from you, using bait and switch justice.

    July 23, 2010 at 2:38 am
  12. John #

    Polanski should know, being Jewish, that becoming rich and famous, and remaining in hiding for many years, and that becoming old does not exonerate you of your crimes! That justice will hunt you down until you die.

    November 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm
  13. Brandy #

    Hogwash John you don’t know the whole story.

    Switzerland’s refusal to extradite film director Roman Polanski may not have been the burning political issue of the past year in Switzerland according to Swiss news at the end of 2010.

    However there is still a burning political issue in California, which is Judicial Corruption.

    Roman Polanski’s 1977 case is not the only instance of Judicial Corruption at the Santa Monica Courthouse, California, since others have suffered Judicial corruption & the stings of injustice, in the form of police brutality for reporting police cover up of sexual assault.

    This makes for a double and diabolical standard in how sexual assault cases are handled, with partiality and police cover-up being given to those perpetrators working for California government.

    This State of affairs in California does parallel burning issues in the movie “Rosemary’s Baby” made more than 41 years ago and directed by Roman Polanski since also in reality, there are secret covens to boot sexual assault victims for reporting in the Santa Monica Courthouse California.

    ileak is new terminology – But what is past is prologue!

    January 4, 2011 at 6:47 am

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