Legal Expert Says Roman Polanski Arrest 'Doesn't Make Any Sense'

Lawyer for the Oscar-winning director said he would fight extradition.

September 28, 2009, 4:47 AM

Sept. 28, 2009 — -- As director Roman Polanski's lawyers vow to fight his extradition from Switzerland, they and others have raised questions about why he was arrested now, 32 years after he committed statutory rape.

"This type of expense of valuable resources, both financial and some political chips that are being cashed in, really doesn't make any sense unless you're talking about a child predator" with repeated predatory behaviors, UCLA law professor Peter Arenella told today.

Arenella, who has no connection to the Polanski case, said he's watching it closely and trying to read between the lines to figure out why a three-decade-old statutory rape conviction was worth an international manhunt.

While Arenella was quick to note that he did not condone Polanski's 1977 tryst with a 13-year-old girl, being a father to daughters himself, he questioned why Polanski suddenly became such an object of interest for the Los Angeles district attorney's office at a time when the state of California is particularly cash-strapped.

"If a prospector was thinking about justice ... and going after a one-time offender from 30 years ago involving statutory rape ... [it] doesn't seem to make a lot of sense on its own merits," he said. "That suggests something else going on here that the public doesn't know about."

But an official familiar with the case had little sympathy for Polanski, pointing out that he raped a 13-year-old girl, pleaded guilty to a charge and then chose not to face imposition of whatever sentence a court was going to set. As the offender, the source said, Polanksi does not get to determine his punishment -- the legal system does.

Polanski fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with Samantha Geimer after plying her with champagne and Quaaludes at the home of actor Jack Nicholson.

For now, Swiss authorities have maintained that they were acting on a request from the United States to bring a fugitive to justice. Polanski was arrested after walking into a trap at the Zurich airport on his way to receive an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

French attorney Herve Temime vowed today to fight Polanski's extradition.

"He wants to struggle, and I think it will be possible for us to maintain his freedom," the lawyer told "Good Morning America" today, adding that Polanski and his lawyers were shocked that the Oscar winner was arrested after walking into a trap at the Zurich, Switzerland, airport.

Polanski, 76, has been avoiding the United States and countries that have extradition agreements with the United States since 1978. Then a powerhouse Hollywood director, Polanski continued a fruitful career in Europe and had been known to visit Switzerland frequently, reportedly owning a chalet there.

"I'm very shocked by the demand of extradition because, you know, this case has been a very long time -- 32 years -- and during this time, Mr. Polanski traveled a lot," Temime said. "He couldn't imagine that he would be arrested in Switzerland."

Before leaving the United States, Polanski served 43 days in a California jail, where he underwent psychological evaluation. His decision to flee was rooted in fear of a long prison sentence despite taking a plea deal.

Temime is one of a team of lawyers, including Swiss lawyer Lorenz Erni of the firm Eschmann & Erni, to represent him while he is held in Zurich.

"I've talked with Mr. Polanski," Temime said. "He's in very good shape."

Now in her 40s, Geimer has said she has forgiven Polanski and does not want him to serve jail time.

Swiss officials are waiting on an official extradition request from the United States, but may set bail for Polanski.

French Minister Condemns Polanski Arrest

Temime said he is unsure why U.S. officials would act now, nabbing his client as he arrived to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival. He's hopeful the judge will be sympathetic to Polanski's situation.

"I think it will be possible for the Swiss judge ... to make Mr. Polanski free as soon as possible," he said. "If he was released he could have some conditions, but first we have to make the request."

Polanski, who has had small, often uncredited roles in his films, rose to fame in the 1960s and '70s as the director of such movies as 1968's "Rosemary's Baby" and 1974's "Chinatown." He was briefly married to actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered, along with the couple's unborn son, in 1969 by a group of Charles Manson followers.

The French culture minister has denounced the United States for the arrest of Polanski, saying it is a "terrible thing and very unfair."

"Seeing him alone, imprisoned while he was heading to an event that was due to offer him praise and recognition is awful. He was trapped," French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said at a news conference Sunday. "In the same way there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America, that has just shown its face."

Mitterrand said French President Nicholas Sarkozy is paying close attention to the case and that the French consulate may try to visit with Polanski today if allowed.

"I'm offering my support to Polanski as a French citizen and as the minister for culture. Justice has been denied to him many times in his life, and beauty is something that he has brought though his films," he said, calling Polanski a "wonderful man" and "one of the greatest directors of all time.If the world of culture does not offer its support to Polanski, then that would mean there is no more culture in this country."

Polanski's team of U.S. attorneys -- Douglas Dalton, Bart Dalton and Chad Hummel -- also seemed surprised by the arrest.

"An issue related to the Swiss extradition matter is presently being litigated before the California Court of Appeal. We had hoped that this would be determinative of this case," they said in a statement to Sunday. "We were unaware of any extradition being sought and separate counsel will be retained for those proceedings."

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which is overseeing the case, declined to comment to Sunday.

"We don't comment on matters of extradition, unless and until an individual is on U.S. soil," spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said, citing security concerns.

But the U.S. Marshals confirmed it has been watching Polanski's movements. A provisional arrest warrant was issued after the Marshals and the Los Angeles Police Department learned Polanski would be traveling to Switzerland via Vienna.

Two sources familiar with the case told ABC News that Polanski was arrested after authorities saw advertising on the Internet touting that he was going to attend the film festival in Switzerland. Apparently, the organizers for the event thought it was good for ticket sales and were using his appearance as a marketing tool.

Los Angeles District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons told ABC News that this is not the first time Polanski has been in this situation, but he typically hears about a possible arrest ahead of time.

"He hears that he might be arrested if he goes to another country, so he doesn't go," she said, using England as an example.

If and when Polanski is extradited, she said, he will appear in a Los Angeles court. Gibbons said Switzerland is just one of several countries U.S. authorities have worked with to take Polanski into custody.

"We have made requests through diplomatic channels where we've received info that he will be traveling to other countries that have a treaty with the U.S.," she said, calling Polanski a "fugitive." "There has been several times where we have prepared necessary documents with the countries that have treaties with the U.S."

Polanski Had Sex With Teen After 1977 Photo Shoot

After a period of relative quiet in the 1980s and '90s, Polanski burst back on the scene with 2002's "The Pianist," the tale of a Polish Jew trying to survive in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

The film earned three Oscars, including for best actor and best director, though Polanski, due to the warrant for his arrest if he returned to the United States, did not attend the ceremony. He did, however, receive a standing ovation from many audience members when his name was announced.

He was also the subject of a 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" that explored the frenetic judicial process after he was arrested and the media circus that enveloped the case.

Polanski became involved with the 13-year-old girl after her mother approved a private photo shoot in hopes of furthering the teen's acting career.

She said he supplied her with champagne and Quaaludes and assaulted her at Jack Nicholson's home. Nicholson's then-girlfriend, Academy Award-winning actress Anjelica Huston, was at the house at the time.

In 2003, Geimar spoke to ABC News and said she wished Polanski would return to the U.S. to end the ordeal for both of them.

"I would love to see him resolve it," Geimer said at the time. "And I think we've always had the position of, you know, the sooner the better."

Geimer said that after Polanski's arrest, she and her mother were blamed for the incident.

"You know after the publicity came out and stuff, I knew it was just as bad for him as it was for me," Geimer told ABC News. "I'm sure if he could I'm sure he'd go back and wouldn't do it again."

Though for years, Polanski maintained that the encounter was completely consensual, he seemed to change his attitude in a 1994 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

"I know now it was, it was not the right thing to do," he said at the time. "But I was, there was no premeditation, you know, it was something that just happened."

ABC News' Christel Kucharz, Christophe Schpoliansky and DeeAhna Hernandez, Carolyn Durand and Pierre Thomas contributed to this story.