What a difference a year can make.
Exactly one year ago, on Oct. 22, 2009, a request was made to formally extradite fugitive director Roman Polanski from Switzerland, following his arrest at the Zurich airport. Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley seemed poised to bring the fugitive back to California to face the courts -- and use the case to catapult himself to statewide office.
Except it didn't turn out that way.
“Cooley has always made it clear that the last thing he ever wants is another O.J. fiasco,” an L.A.-based lawyer familiar with Cooley's office told TheWrap. "But that’s turned out to be what he got.”
Indeed, while the Oscar-winning director is a free man about to make his next movie, “God of Carnage,” with Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, Cooley is in the fight of his political life.
A Field Poll look at the California attorney general's race in late September found Cooley ahead of his Democratic rival, San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris, by a mere four points -- 35 percent to 31 percent.
Despite acquiring endorsements from major newspapers and law enforcement groups across the state, Cooley has barely inched up from where he was in July.
Meanwhile, pro-Polanski Hollywood is squaring off against him. On Oct. 27, a packed fundraiser Universal Studios will see the likes Disney CEO Bob Iger, Jeffery Katzenberg, Sherry Lansing, Steven Spielberg, Aaron Sorkin and others shelling out $500 to $13,000 for Harris.
That kind of support should fill the Democrat’s coffers and catch her up to the $500,000 Cooley has over her in cash at this final stage of the campaign.
“Celebrity cases like Polanski are a spotlight for any politician,” a lawyer who's had clients face off against Cooley’s office told TheWrap. “They’re risky, but they get lots of attention, lots of free media and you get to look like the good guy.”
Well … if you win. But Steve Cooley didn’t win. And Polanski isn't the only albatross on Cooley's back.
It took two trials for Cooley’s office to get a conviction against legendary record producer Phil Spector in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Calling jurors “stupid” when they acquitted Robert Blake in the death of his wife was a sorry end to a lumbering and failed prosecution. And there’s been heavy criticism for his office not going after sex offenses and cover-ups committed by the Catholic Church.
As for Polanski, as long as he stays in France, Poland or Switzerland, the director, who raped and drugged a 13-year-old girl in 1977, is safe from being arrested again and safe to make big films with an ever-growing list of stars.
“The Swiss denying the extradition and watching Roman Polanski walk around free is a big embarrassment to Cooley and the D.A.’s office,” an individual close to the case told TheWrap. “They thought they had this in the bag. Obviously they didn’t.”
With two years left on his latest term as D.A, Cooley could find himself suffering the indignity in February 2012 of watching Roman Polanski being awarded yet another Oscar for Best Director for "Carnage."
Wonder if he’ll thank the man who made it all possible -- Steve Cooley.