U.S. Asks Swiss for Gift-Wrapped Polanski

Lawyers for Roman Polanski spelled out their arguments against extradition to the Justice Department in a 10-page letter. The DOJ didn’t buy it.

Last Updated: November 25, 2009 @ 12:06 PM

It looks as though that Oct. 2 meeting with the Justice Department and representatives of the L.A. District Attorney’s office and Roman Polanski’s American legal team did not pan out for the film director.

At the Washington, D.C., gathering, Polanski’s lawyers had argued against the U.S. requesting his extradition, but today Swiss authorities announced they had received the extradition request from the DOJ, which handles all international extradition filings.

The arguments from Polanski’s side were later summarized in an Oct. 7 letter delivered to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz; according to the 10-page letter, the case for not forwarding the D.A.’s extradition request boiled down to these four reasons:

1) Polanski had already fully served the 90-day sentence given to him in a 1978 plea deal (his lawyers claim Polanski’s 42-day stay at Chino State Prison had satisfied the sentencing judge);

2) Under the terms of the U.S.’ extradition treaty with Switzerland, “Mr. Polanski would not serve more than six months in custody upon return as required by the Treaty.” (The treaty states, “When the request for extradition relates to a person who has been convicted, extradition shall be granted only if the duration of the penalty . . . amounts to at least six months.”);

3) Polanski only bolted America in 1978 as a result of improper conduct on the part of the late L.A. Superior Court Judge Laurence Rittenband and because he “had no realistic legal remedy that time which would have prevented unwarranted and potentially indeterminate time in custody;”

4) Polanski’s arrest “was improperly motivated,” coming after he’s lived in France for 30 years. Furthermore, it occurred as a California appellate court seemed to be favorably disposed to letting Polanski’s lawyers argue for the dismissal of Polanski’s 1977 sexual assault charges. His lawyers cite “unnamed law enforcement sources” as confirming the motivation behind the arrest warrant was to pull the rug from under Polanski’s transatlantic appeal.

The letter’s enclosures included, among other things, a DVD of Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which aired on HBO and set off a firestorm of accusations about judicial misconduct on the part of Judge Rittenband and now-retired deputy district attorney David Wells.

Wells admitted having unethical ex parte meetings with Rittenband about the case, although after Polanski’s arrest he would claim that much of what he told Zenovich on camera was lies.

Now, with Polanski’s extradition request in Swiss hands, it seems that the DOJ’s Swartz was unswayed by the DVD — if he watched it. How the Swiss authorities will view the controversy surrounding the Polanski case — especially the charges of past judicial misconduct — is unknown.

Jean Rosenbluth, a former U.S. prosecutor who teaches law at USC, tells TheWrap that American authorities tend to reflexively trust the legal systems of treaty signatories, and that most other countries ignore local trial controversies when considering extradition requests.

“The whole point of the treaty,” Rosenbluth says, “is that the countries who belong to it trust that the other countries will do the right thing and that whatever legal disputes are involved in a case will get straightened out in the country where the crime was committed.”

See letter to DOJ  here.