Roman Polanski's lawyers are alleging even more judicial misconduct in his original trial than we previously knew about, showing yet again that the 1977 proceedings were basically an example of how not to handle a rape case.
As the Times's Michael Cieply points out, Polanski's original 1977 trial for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl was already tarnished by allegations of inappropriate contact between Judge Laurence J. Rittenband (now deceased) and a prosecutor. Now Polanski's lawyers have a witness who alleges that Rittenband had inappropriate contact with two other prosecutors as well. The witness is Roger Gunson, a former deputy DA who threatened to file a misconduct charge against Rittenband in 1977. When Gunson told two other prosecutors his intention, they met with Rittenband, heard him admit "all of the alleged misconduct," and then did not permit Gunson to file. This looks an awful lot like collusion, and makes an already questionable case seem even more corrupt.
All this just adds to the many reasons why Polanski's 2009-10 legal wrangles are giving the public the worst possible impression of rape cases. Polanski himself has admitted to sex with a child, and if the 1977 proceedings had been conducted correctly, he might have gotten justice at the time (though real justice probably would've involved a trial on the more serious charge of rape, not merely "unlawful sex with a minor"). At this point, the waters have been muddied by time, by the increasingly discredited Rittenband, and by Polanski's intervening career and its attendant accolades. Basically, Polanski has had 33 years to build support, while Rittenband only looks worse over time. The result: Polanski's fans and the general public forget the seriousness of child rape, and see only a man prosecuted long after his crime, who may have been the victim of a judge cozy with the prosecution. If the allegations of misconduct are true, then Rittenband bears some of the blame for perverting not just Polanski's case but the public perception of the crime — for making rape look trivial, rape trials look like witch hunts, and a rapist look like a hero.
Meanwhile, Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner, who once chalked up his rape to a "crazy time," is hopeful for the future. She says their life during his Swiss house arrest has not been "ideal," but has been "good" because it allowed Polanski to see his kids. She also says the case will be "solved and over pretty soon," and the "toughest moments are behind us." For Polanski, whose lawyers continue to argue against his extradition to the US, this is likely true. For rape victims, who now have a rapist-turned-Hollywood-cause-celebre on the opposing side, tougher times are ahead.