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Roman Polanski attorneys may have provoked arrest by complaining L.A. wasn't serious about arresting director

September 28, 2009 | 12:43 pm

Roman Polanski’s attorneys may have helped provoke his arrest by complaining to an appellate court this summer that Los Angeles prosecutors had never made any real effort to arrest the filmmaker in his three decades as a fugitive, two sources familiar with the case told The Times.

The accusation that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office was not serious about extraditing Polanski was a small part of two July court filings by the director’s attorneys. But it caught the attention of prosecutors and led to his capture in Switzerland on Saturday, the sources said.

Polanski, 76, was taken into custody at the airport in Zurich, where he was scheduled to headline the city’s film festival. Details of his appearance were widely available on the Internet. Variety also reported his planned attendance in August, the month after Polanski’s attorneys had filed two separate documents with the 2nd District of the state Court of Appeal asking for a dismissal of the 32-year-old child sex case against the filmmaker.

In both, the lawyers alleged that the district attorney’s office in effect benefited from Polanski’s absence, because as long as he remained a fugitive, officials could avoid answering allegations of prosecutorial and judicial wrongdoing in the original handling of the case.

“The district attorney’s office, in the 30 years since Mr. Polanski left the jurisdiction, has not once sought to have him extradited. If it had, there would have been a hearing regarding misconduct in this case,” wrote the attorneys, Chad Hummel, Douglas Dalton and Bart Dalton, in a July 7 filing.

Twenty days later, they filed a second document and raised the issue again in a footnote. “Combined with the fact that no effort has been made to extradite Mr. Polanski, the intent here is clear: invoke a physical absence which they caused and deliberately perpetuate in order to preserve the unconstitutional status quo and never address the misconduct head on,” the lawyers wrote. 

The allegations prompted the district attorney’s office to look for an opportunity to seize Polanski, and his appearance in Switzerland, which has an extradition treaty with the U.S., provided such a chance, said the sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition that they not be named because it was an ongoing investigation.

In bemoaning Polanski’s arrest, his supporters have noted that in recent years the director traveled widely in Europe without fear of arrest and even owned a home in Switzerland.

The arrest has become an international incident, with France and Poland demanding that the famed director be released on bail and questioning why he was taken into custody.

The district attorney's office wants Polanski extradited to face charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that he and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Polanski be released on bail, calling his arrest  a "bit sinister."

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

Swiss authorities told the Associated Press that bail has not been ruled out, but the director would have to stay in Switzerland.

Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was "politically motivated." "I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion," he said.

-- Harriet Ryan and Richard Winton

Photo: Polanski leaves court on Sept. 19, 1977, after being ordered to undergo a 90-day diagnostic study at a state prison. Credit: Associated Press