Lynchpin Of Polanski Misconduct Case: "I Lied"

Illustration for article titled Lynchpin Of Polanski Misconduct Case: "I Lied"

Potentially bad news for Roman Polanski (plus everyone who saw the 2008 documentary about him and has thus been squawking "judicial misconduct!" all week, as though that made him not a rapist): The prosecutor involved in said misconduct lied.


David Wells, the retired L.A. prosecutor who said in the film Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired that he'd advised Judge Laurence Rittenband on how to renege on his plea bargain with Polanski, now says he didn't. As Marcia Clark (a friend of Wells's) explains in a must-read article at The Daily Beast, one way or another, this "is going to make things worse for Polanski." Wells might be lying now, as Polanski supporters will no doubt rush to argue, but it doesn't really matter, for a couple of reasons. Writes Clark:

Wells' repudiation hurts them big-time. It's the equivalent of "I'm a liar and everything I say is a lie." By discrediting himself, he largely negates his value to Polanski. For the record, if he really did make those suggestions to the judge, I wouldn't put it past him to fall on his sword, say he lied, and save the case. But if that's true, and I don't think it is, it was also unnecessary. A judge would be highly unlikely to throw out the rape case even if David Wells had spoken privately to Rittenband. An ex parte communication generally wouldn't justify dismissal of a violent felony anyway. And for this kind of communication? Forget about it.

Although he says he lied about talking to Judge Rittenband, Wells does admit he was the guy who supplied the judge with a photo of Polanski carousing at Oktoberfest, prior to the 42-day psychiatric evaluation that would end up being all the time Polanski served for forcing himself on a 13-year-old. He brought a Polish newspaper with that picture into court, and "I told the bailiff, ‘Here, give this to the judge.' Did I know it would tick him off? Yeah. It ticked me off. Polanski was thumbing his nose at everyone."

Such nose-thumbing also seems to have been his downfall 32 years later. Clark confirms what many suspected, that Polanski's recent attempts to get the case dropped — based on Wells's revelations in the documentary — backfired.

After Polanski's lawyers filed their motion last winter, the DA's office had to do something. Granted, at first the "something" was a confusing, muddled mess. The office initially denied that there'd been misconduct when the case was originally prosecuted; then, faced with Wells' statements in the documentary, it withdrew that statement. But privately, after many aborted efforts over the years, it dusted off the arrest warrant and nabbed the guy. Law-enforcement sources have acknowledged that Polanski has his own lawyers and their strident motions to thank for finally landing him behind bars.

Clark also makes a point echoed in an AP story today: Polanski would have been much better off facing the music back when rape victims were even more likely to be cast as sluts who were asking for it. If either side now asks to withdraw from the plea bargain (Polanski's lawyers could do it on the judicial misconduct grounds; the district attorney could do it because Polanski's flight violated the terms of the deal), he'll be looking at a new trial in a very different social climate. Not quite as different as Clark portrays it, I'm afraid — if you want evidence that our culture still gives the benefit of the doubt to rapists far too often, look no further than the celebrities rushing to support Polanski — but yes, as some of his defenders have been saying, those were different times. In 30 years, the attitudes of both society and the justice system toward rape victims have changed substantially. That's called "progress."

Polanski's Lost Alibi [Daily Beast]
Polanski Would Face Tougher Prosecution Today [AP]
Roman Polanski Has A Lot Of Friends [The Nation]


Freddie DeBoer

It is incredibly depressing to me that you seem to think that judicial misconduct only matters if someone isn't guilty. Yes, Polanski is an odious criminal who deserves punishment, as a clear majority of commentators are saying. But judicial misconduct is a huge problem in this country, it lands thousands of innocent people behind bars, and, by the way, it is utterly contrary to the most basic notions of democracy and egalitarianism— the same notions that make the feminist revolution that has done so much to fight sexual violence possible.

You cannot support the cause of ending violence— you cannot— by rushing to obliterate the due process that makes the prosecution of rapists possible. And you can't let this guy off the hook simply because he is prosecuting a really terrible criminal. The history of mankind tells us that attempts to support the project of liberation (which is what the fight against sexual violence is, part of the fight to liberate women from subjugation) by undermining the legal structures of liberation always backfires. We have to resist the temptation to abandon due process in the face of a really heinous crime, and this post is irresponsible and disgusting in its suggestion that support for due process is tantamount to support for child rape.