The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Did Polanski documentary spur D.A.'s criminal chase?

September 28, 2009 | 11:55 am

Did the L.A. County district attorney's office go after Roman Polanski because they wanted revenge after getting a black eye in the recent Polanski documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired?"

That's the provocative theory floated by Newser's always provocative Michael Wolff, best known as the author of "The Man Who Owns the News," the wonderfully dishy recent biography of Rupert Murdoch. According to Wolff, it seems awfully strange that Polanski has been traveling to Switzerland for years -- he even has a home there -- without L.A. prosecutors managing to nab him until now.

So why did the D.A.'s office suddenly kick itself into gear? Here's the gist of Wolff's theory:

Arresting Polanski is about the L.A. prosecutor's office's public relations. Prosecutors ignored Polanski for 30 years because it was a terrible case in which the prosecutor's office and the sitting judge, in the interest of getting publicity for themselves, had conducted themselves in all variety of dubious ways. But then, last year, 'Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired' came out detailing all this dubiousness. So the first motivation for going after Polanski now, as it so often is with prosecutors, is revenge -- Polanski and this film makes the D.A. look bad.

Wolff adds that the documentary must have also served as a reminder, with Polanski traveling freely around Europe, that the D.A.'s office had turned a blind eye to his case. Now that the D.A.'s office has nabbed its fugitive, it no longer looks distracted or impotent. As Wolff puts it: "The headlines now sweeping the world are the prosecutor's ultimate benefit. Many careers are suddenly advanced."

There are a few holes in Wolff's theory, especially since I'm not so sure that the current inhabitants of the D.A.'s office are really so invested in defending the actions of their long-ago predecessors, especially since the documentary's most damning revelations involved the sitting judge, not the prosecutors. But with so many far more important cases sitting idle because of budget cuts and lack of manpower, it is hard to fathom why the D.A.'s office is suddenly spending time and money trying to re-energize an ancient sex case when there are so many more nasty characters so much closer to home who need to feel the strong arm of the law.

Photo: Roman Polanski. Credit: Los Angeles Times / UCLA Library of Special Collections