Roman Polanski's Attorney Threatens to Sue Academy Over Director's Expulsion

The Oscar winner's camp contends that he should have been able to appeal the Academy's decision before it was finalized. The Academy disagrees.
Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski is threatening to sue the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over his expulsion from its membership, arguing that he did not receive a "fair hearing."

The Academy expelled both Polanski, 84, and Bill Cosby, 80, on Thursday "in accordance with the organization’s standards of conduct," the organization said in a statement. Polanski was convicted of raping a 13-year-old in 1977, pleaded guilty, was jailed for 42 days and then placed on probation as part of a plea deal before fleeing the country upon learning that a judge planned to revoke the plea deal.

Harland Braun, Polanski's attorney, wrote in a letter to Academy president John Bailey — which The Hollywood Reporter has obtained — that his client was denied the opportunity to appeal the Academy's decision, which the Academy's standards of conduct, which were implemented in January, calls for. "I am writing this letter to you to avoid unnecessary litigation," Braun warned. "Mr. Polanski has a right to go to court and require your organization to follow its own procedures, as well as California law."

Continued Braun: "The only proper solution would be for your organization to rescind its illegal expulsion of Mr. Polanski and follow its own Standards of Conduct by giving Mr. Polanski reasonable notice of the charges against him and a fair hearing to present his position with respect to any proposed expulsion. We are not here contesting the merits of the expulsion decision, but rather your organization’s blatant disregard of its own Standards of Conduct in, as well as its violations of the standards required by California Corporations Code."

Academy insiders, however, are confident that Braun has no grounds for pursuing the matter, arguing that not all expulsions for standards of conduct violations are subject to appeal. They point to Article 10, Section 3 of the organization's bylaws, which states, “Any member of the Academy may be suspended or expelled for cause by the Board of Governors. Expulsion or suspension as herein provided for shall require the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of all the Governors.” There is no right to appeal an expulsion provided under this provision.

Section 8 of the standards of conduct further supports this position. It reads, “The Board of Governors retains its independent duty and authority as outlined in the bylaws to address and take action on any matter, whether submitted by the process outlined above or not, related to a member’s status and to enforce the Academy’s Standards of Conduct.”

"The Board continues to encourage ethical standards that require members to uphold the Academy's values of respect for human dignity," the Academy said in its original statement about Polanski's expulsion.

Polanski is best known for 1968's Rosemary's Baby, 1974's Chinatown and 2002's The Pianist. For The Pianist, he was awarded a best director Oscar and received a standing ovation at the Oscars ceremony in 2003. Samantha Geimer, Polanski’s victim in the 1977 case, who is now 55, said last week that she did not want him to lose his Academy membership and described the Academy’s board of governors to Vanity Fair as “a bunch of douchebags” for announcing Polanski’s expulsion at the same time as Cosby’s.

The full text of Braun's letter to Bailey appears below.

* * *

Dear Mr. Bailey:

Enclosed please find a copy of your Academy's May 3, 2018 letter to my client Roman Polanski. This unsigned letter was the only notice that Mr. Polanski was given that he was expelled from the Academy.

Mr. Polanski and I heard rumors that there might be some consideration of expulsion by the Academy based on his conduct four decades ago. We anticipated that the Academy would follow its own rules and regulations and the California Corporations Code in giving Mr. Polanski the mandatory notice of the proposed action and an opportunity to present his side of the controversy as required by law.

California Corporations Code, Section 7341, the Bylaws of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Standards of Conduct adopted by the Academy in May 2018, require the legal recognition that the Academy has violated th basic standards of due process and deprived Mr. Polanski of a fair hearing.

Section 5b of your 2018 Standards of Conduct and Process for handling claims of misconduct specifically require that the Academy give the subject of the claim notice and an opportunity to respond in writing within ten (10) business days. This basic requirement was violated by your organization.

California Corporations Code, Section 7341, provides that the expulsion of any member must be done in good faith and in a fair manner. Section 7341(c)(2) requires fifteen (15) days of prior notice of an expulsion, as well as notice of the reasons for the proposed expulsion. Subsection (c)(3) requires that the member be given an opportunity to be heard, either orally or in writing, not less than five (5) days before the effective date of the expulsion.

Article X, Section 3, of your Bylaws states that an expulsion requires the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of the Governors. A reasonable interpretation of the right of a member to present a defense is that it must be submitted to each voting member of the Board of Governors. Because of the litigations in California, Switzerland and Poland, there is an organized summary of materials which must be read by each voting member of the Board of Governors. Also, the victim of Mr. Polanski's 1977 misconduct wants to orally present her side to the Board of Governors in addition to submitting her position in writing.

Roman Polanski has never contested his responsibility for the misconduct in 1977, nor has he fled the California judicial system without proper cause. A reading of Judge Mazur's well-reasoned decision issued by the Krakow Regional Court would provide a basic outline of Mr. Polanski's position. Even the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Mr. Polanski, acknowledged that Mr. Polanski was denied the sentence promised by the trial judge. The current prosecutor's office acknowledges that Mr. Polanski has completed more time in custody than he was promised by the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Mr. Polanski has acknowledged his legal and moral responsibility for his misconduct in 1977. He has apologized to Samantha Geimer who has accepted his apology and appeared in court to support Mr. Polanski. We are not here contesting the merits of the expulsion decision, but rather your organization's blatant disregard of its own Standards of Conduct in, as well as its violations of the standards required by California Corporations Code, Section 7341.

I am writing this letter to you to avoid unnecessary litigation. Mr. Polanski has a right to go to court and require your organization to follow its own procedures, as well as California law. The only proper solution would be for your organization to rescind its illegal expulsion of Mr. Polanski and follow its own Standards of Conduct by giving Mr. Polanski reasonable notice of the charges against him and a fair hearing to present his position with respect to any proposed expulsion.

I hope that the Academy understands Mr. Polanski only asks for a fair hearing to present his side of all the issues which will also provide members who support expulsion a forum to argue their position.

Yours very truly,

Harland W. Braun

HWB:js

Encl.

cc: John Quinn, Esq., Roman Polanski