Why Did Obama’s DOJ Botch Roman Polanski’s Extradition?
posted at 7:44 pm on July 15, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
When the Swiss denied the extradition request for child-rapist Roman Polanski, they explicitly gave as their primary reason the refusal of the Department of Justice to release a transcript of several days of “secret testimony” by one of the prosecutors, Roger Gunson:
The Justice Department said the transcripts couldn’t be provided, according to a letter from Swiss officials to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. The letter was dated Monday and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
The Swiss officials said that the denial of access to the information was the key factor in the refusal to extradite Polanski.
The testimony was taken, it appears (though the reporting is quite vague), during a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing this last January, held to determine whether Polanski could be sentenced “in absentia;” eventually, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that he could not be, that he had to be physically present for the hearing to occur.
The request was particularly risible and frivolous in this case — given that Polanski already fled from a previous sentence, which he seems to have believed was only an additional 48 days of “diagnostic study.” What are the odds that, were he sentenced in absentia today for a more reasonable term in jail, he would actually show up to serve it? Obviously, the only purpose of such a hearing would be for Polanski’s lawyers to refight the original charge — then only allow him to return if he was victorious and “vindicated.”
Retired Prosecutor Gunson’s testimony during that hearing remains sealed, per the DoJ; however, it’s easy to guess what Gunson said: I presume he repeated the claim he made in a statement in June, 2008 — and earlier that year in a pro-Polanski documentary — that the original judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, had been “coached” during the original trial in 1977 by another prosecutor, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Wells. I’m not quite sure what “coached” means in this case, probably the allegation that the prosecutor and judge colluded against Polanski.
Gunson also claimed in documentary and statement that in 1997, twenty years after, he and Polanski’s attorney Douglas Dalton met in chambers with Judge Larry Paul Fidler. Fidler, they say, agreed that Polanski could return to the United States and be sentenced only to probation with no prison or jail time.
But President Barack H. Obama’s Justice Department denied the Swiss request for that testimony. They must have known that withholding it guaranteed that Swiss authorities would reject extradition: Swiss law allows extradition only in cases where the defendant would be sentenced to at least six months in jail; yet the Gunson testimony went to the question of whether Polanski faced any jail time at all. Obviously, without being allowed to read that testimony for themselves and weigh it against other, more pertinent evidence, the Swiss were bound to err on the side of Polanski, who owns property in Gstadt, rather than the distant United States.
I see only two plausibilities, neither of which redounds to the credit of Attorney General Eric Holder or President Obama:
- The Justice Department reflexively withheld the testimony because top personnel were afraid the Swiss would seize upon it as proof that Polanski didn’t qualify to be extradited under Swiss law. This is “teen logic,” like a high-schooler having a fender bender, then parking the car on the street so Dad would think it was a hit-and-run in the middle of the night.
- Justice deliberately withheld the testimony to ensure that Polanski would not be extradited, would not stand trial again for the brutal rape and for fleeing prosecution, and would not be punished. It is at the very least curious that Polanski hired a new attorney, Reid Weingarten, four days after his arrest in Zurich… an attorney who is a “close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder.”
The Weingarten angle is tantalizing; did Holder’s pal broker a Washington deal to keep Polanski free? Did Holder agree — he does have a history of killing prosecutions, doesn’t he? — in order to keep faith with Obama’s supporters and donors among the Hollywood Left?
Polanski, 76, was arrested last weekend at Zurich’s airport on a 31-year-old fugitive warrant issued after he skipped sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The addition of Weingarten, who has known Holder since the two worked together in the department’s Public Integrity Section in the 1970s, means Polanski now has a powerful advocate in Washington.
The New York Times reports:
The recruiting of Mr. Weingarten was a strong signal that Mr. Polanski’s legal team intends to push hard on the Washington end of the case. Mr. Polanski was arrested on his way to the Zurich Film Festival after Swiss authorities received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting that he be held for possible extradition to the United States.
The question now is, from how high up the chain at Justice came the decision to refuse the Swiss request for the Gunson testimony?
Under the first hypothesis, it was just a boneheaded mistake by either Eric Holder himself or one of his top deputies. There is ample evidence that Polanski actually faced far more than six months, possibly as much as twenty years. As Patterico pointed out in early May, both Polanski’s plea transcript from 1978 and a Christmas Eve Day decision in 2009 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rebut the urban legend that Roman Polanski had a sentencing “deal” with Judge Rittenband to “serve” only 42 days of a diagnostic study as his sole “punishment.” In fact, Patterico notes, such studies are not punitive at all and cannot constitute a “sentence;” they’re meant to help determine what sentence the convict should receive.)
Nobody, not even Polanski’s attorneys, claims that the defendant was legally authorized to flee the country to avoid further court proceedings; so at the very least, he should be subject to prosecution for unlawful flight, which would likely net him at least six months on that charge alone. Too, serving some sort of sentence following the full 90 days of evaluation — even if only probation — was surely part of any plea agreement; since he failed to fulfill his side of the agreement, the plea bargain is off — and Polanski is now subject to the full set of charges, including oral, vaginal, and anal rape of a minor by drugs and force. If convicted, and I suspect he would be, I’m sure he would be eligible for life in prison (de facto if not de jure, as he turns 77 years old next month).
Instead of refusing to hand over the ramblings of an obviously biased witness, Roger Gunson, Obama’s Department of Justice should have released it and simply made the argument that Gunson’s testimony is not dispositive anent the punishment that awaits Mr. Polanski upon his return. It’s possible the Swiss law-enforcement officials would have found some other excuse not to extradite; but it’s also possible they would decide, if the petition was strong and all documents included, that they couldn’t brush it aside so easily.
And of course, the other hypothesis — that Holder once again quashed prosecution of a politically favored defendant in a sensational case — is even more reprehensible. It forms a pattern of biased conduct verging on political bribery at the DoJ that would further erode any confidence among the American people that Barack H. Obama is fit to serve as President of the United States… or at the very least, that Eric Holder is fit to serve as Attorney General. (But who appointed Eric Holder?)
The botching of the Polanski extradition case — or its corrupt quashing — opens yet another vista of the Democratic culture of corruption, an inexhaustible oil spill of moral rot and political turpitude seeping throughout all three branches of the federal government.
Drip, drip, drip.
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…