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Polanski attorney says he served his time as Poland revives extradition

An attorney for filmmaker Roman Polanski said Tuesday that he will fight new efforts by Poland to extradite the director to the U.S. to face sentencing on child sex charges, arguing that his client has already served the maximum sentence for the crime.

Polanski, 82, pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot. Before sentencing he fled to Europe, leading to a nearly 40-year legal drama with Polanski evading attempts by the U.S. to extradite him from various countries.

A Polish court rejected an extradition request last fall, saying it violated Polish law.

However, on Tuesday, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro reopened the battle, saying he believes Polanski has received special treatment and announcing his government would appeal that lower court ruling.

Polanski, who holds Polish and French citizenship, lives in Paris but makes frequent trips to Poland, where he owns property. He was seen there last week at a media event.

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Attorney Harland Braun, who represents the director, said he will seek to preempt the Polish moves by filing a brief in Los Angeles Superior Court, arguing that the “Chinatown’ director has served the maximum time he could have been sentenced.

Braun counted Polanski’s combined 42 days in a state prison in Chino during 1977 and 1978 and several months of house arrest in Switzerland after a failed bid by the U.S. to extradite him from that country in 2010.

Braun said a successful court action here would effectively end extradition efforts. “We believed he’s served the maximum time,“ Braun said. “We are not going to fight old fights again … he doesn’t owe any more time. He will come back and be sentenced if the court agrees.”

Polanski was initially sent to Chino State Prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, which ended after 42 days.

He fled the U.S. in 1978 after learning that Judge Laurence J. Rittenband might revise his sentence after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor.

Braun said Rittenband originally promised a sentence of 90 days evaluation in Chino. Braun said under his interpretation of statutes, the maximum sentence at the time would have been two years with a 50% credit for time served, meaning Polanski would have served no more than 12 months.

Braun said he had planned to file the legal petition later this year but will expedite efforts after the announcement by the Polish justice minister.

Ziobro, who is Poland’s attorney general, said he believes Polanski’s fame has protected him from being held accountable for his crime.

“If he was just a regular guy, a teacher, doctor, plumber, decorator, then I’m sure he’d have been deported from any country to the U.S. a long time ago,” Ziobro told Polish state radio, according to the Reuters news agency.

Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson said Braun is likely to face an uphill battle.

“I think it goes without saying that Polanski will have a hard time with any motion in the California courts,” Levenson said. “They have made it pretty clear that they don’t want to consider his arguments unless he is willing to come back and subject himself to their jurisdiction.”

The U.S. attempted to extradite Polanski from Switzerland after he was arrested at a film festival and placed under house arrest in 2009.

When that failed, U.S. authorities sought to secure his extradition with the help of Polish authorities. In October, a court in Krakow said that Polanski’s extradition to the U.S. would be an “obviously unlawful” abuse of his liberty and was forbidden under Polish law.

It also questioned whether the U.S. would provide him with humane enough conditions while he was incarcerated. In November, prosecutors said they had no plans to object.

But Ziobro, who took office at the end of last year, after the ruling, and is a member of the country’s new conservative government, now seeks to challenge that.

Under the terms of a Polish-U.S. extradition agreement, Polanski, the director of “Rosemary’s Baby” among other films, “should be handed over to the United States,” he said in a statement.

Any time he spent behind bars or under house arrest is “not a punishment for the crime of which he has been accused,” Ziobro said.

Polanski’s Polish lawyer said that his client was aware of these new developments and they were not unexpected.

“The court’s verdict stands and Mr. Polanski is a free man,” Jan Olszewski told the Associated Press. “But I cannot exclude that this situation will affect his decisions as to visiting Poland.”

Winton reported from Los Angeles. Boyle is a special correspondent and reported from London.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

@lacrimes


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