Academy Argues Ex-Prosecutor's Testimony Is Irrelevant to Roman Polanski's Expulsion

Roman Polanski - Getty - H 2019
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is asking a California judge to reject Roman Polanski's attempt to bring a prosecutor's currently sealed testimony into their battle over whether or not he was rightfully expelled from the organization.

The Rosemary's Baby director fled the country in 1978 after pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. He maintains that he left because he learned late Judge Laurence Rittenband was going to go back on an alleged promise to sentence him to three months of psychiatric evaluation and instead put him behind bars for 50 years.

For more than a decade, Polanski has been trying to convince the court that he's served his time and should be allowed to return to the U.S. without fear of being jailed. Samantha Geimer, the victim of the assault decades ago, in June 2017 asked the court to dismiss the matter as an "act of mercy" toward her. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon declined to dismiss it, noting that a previous judge had declined to dismiss the matter in 2009, that decision was affirmed by an appeals court, and the facts of the case haven't changed since then. Gordon also denied, on similar grounds, to unseal the 2010 testimony of the prosecutor who handled his case decades ago, Roger Gunson. Polanski contends that it will bolster his allegations of judicial misconduct. 

Polanski was expelled from the Academy in May 2018 along with Bill Cosby, shortly after the comedian's conviction of aggravated sexual assault. In April 2019, the director sued in an effort to get back in. 

He argues he wasn't given the required notice that the Academy's board was reconsidering his membership and was only told in a letter after that the decision was based on his "criminal conviction and his subsequent fugitive status" which is "widely known, including by the Board of Governors." Polanski's attorney Harland Braun argues his client was then subjected to an "unfair and biased" reconsideration process.

Meanwhile, the Academy has argued that Polanski lacks standing to sue because of the doctrine of fugitive disentitlement, which holds that a fugitive from justice can't seek relief from the judicial system whose authority he or she is evading.

So, Polanski is asking Judge Mary H. Strobel to rule on whether the doctrine applies — but he argues that, in order to do so, she must have access to Gunson's deposition.

Now the Academy is fighting Polanski's efforts to convince the criminal court to unseal Gunson's testimony so he can bring it into their dispute. It argues he's trying to use their civil litigation "as a pretext and vehicle for unsealing and publicly filing the transcript."

"The Academy is not a party to Mr. Polanski’s criminal case and takes no position on whether it was or was not appropriate for the Court to seal the transcript of Mr. Gunson’s deposition, nor does the Academy have any interest in the success or failure of Mr. Polanski’s long-running effort to unseal that transcript," writes Academy attorney Kristen Bird.

"Regardless of its contents, the Gunson transcript is utterly irrelevant to Mr. Polanski’s writ proceeding against the Academy," Bird continues. "The reason is that a writ of mandamus proceeding for expulsion from a private institution can only challenge the choice made by the decision-makers based on the evidence that was before them; they cannot be held to account for information they did not have or rely upon."

The Academy argues after its initial decision to kick Polanski out, the board gave him several months to provide it with more information so it could re-evaluate the situation. The director's legal team handed over hundreds of pages of documents, a video statement and other materials, but he didn't seek to provide the Gunson transcript back then. Plus, the Academy argues, that testimony from a decade ago has no bearing on whether its board is treating Polanski fairly now.

Regardless of whether or not the criminal court decides to unseal the transcript, the Academy is asking it not to send it to Strobel because it could imply "this Court has read the transcript and deems it pertinent to the proceedings between Mr. Polanski and the Academy." (Read its full filing here.)

A hearing on Polanski's writ of mandamus, which is posted below, is currently set for Aug. 25.