Judge in Roman Polanski’s Child Sex Case Broke Sentencing Promise, Unsealed Docs Reveal
A newly unsealed court transcript appears to support claims that the judge who oversaw Roman Polanski’s case broke promises related to the disgraced director’s sentencing, The Associated Press reports. Polanski admitted having sex with a 13-year-old in 1977.
The transcript comes from closed-door testimony given by former Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson in 2010 about the conduct of the now-deceased Judge Laurence Rittenband. According to Gunson, Rittenband told both him and Polanski’s lawyer that the director would get a slightly longer sentence than he’d originally been promised. This, in turn, prompted Polanski to flee the United States, making him a fugitive from justice, which he remains to this day.
Polanski has long claimed that he fled the U.S. because he didn’t believe he was getting a fair shake from the judge after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor (in exchange, drug, rape, and sodomy charges were dropped). His lawyer, Harland Braun, has been pushing for Gunson’s 2010 testimony to be unsealed, as has Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer. Geimer even wrote a letter to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office last month asking for the Gunson transcript to be released.
When the DA announced the docs would be unsealed last week, their press statement included a quote from Geimer: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
In his 2010 testimony, Gunson said that Judge Rittenband broke his promise to Polanski that he would be freed following a six-week stint in prison, during which officials determined probation, instead of hard time, would suffice. But according to Gunson, Rittenband thought the recommendation was a “whitewash” and reportedly told Gunson and Polanski’s lawyer that he had to hand down a stiffer sentence because of criticism in the media.
While Gunson said he agreed that prison officials were downplaying the severity of the crime Polanski confessed to, he later called the proceedings a “sham” and said Rittenband broke his promise to Polanski. Rittenband ultimately said he would give Polanski a longer sentence but would still have him released within 120 days.
“The judge had promised him on two occasions … something that he reneged on,” Gunson said in 2010. “So it wasn’t surprising to me that when he was told he was going to be sent off to state prison … that he could not or would not trust the judge.”
Polanski’s lawyer, Braun, did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment following the release of the transcript.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles DA’s office said, “District Attorney [George] Gascón has long held that Mr. Polanski should surrender himself to be sentenced.”
Since fleeing the U.S., Polanski has lived and worked in various European countries, with France, Switzerland, and Poland all rejecting extradition requests. Braun said last week that he would likely use the Gunson transcript as a way to restart efforts to have Polanski sentenced in absentia, which would end his fugitive status. Geimer — with whom Polanski settled a lawsuit for over $600,000 in 1993 — has also called for an absentia sentencing, or for the case to be dismissed.
While the Geimer case is the most infamous, several other women have accused Polanski of sexual assault and rape. In 2019, the French actress Valentine Monnier accused Polanski of raping her in 1975 when she was 18; and in 2017, former German actress Renate Langer alleged that Polanski raped her several times when she was 15 in 1972. British actress Charlotte Lewis also said Polanski “forced himself” on her in 1983.