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The Lens: Use the original plea bargain with Polanski

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2009 - No one asked me, but barring some kind of major development that changes the nature of the case dramatically, here's my advice on how to bring an end the Roman Polanski situation. I don't expect it to please everyone and since I'm not an attorney, I can't be sure that it's workable - not that the louder voices on this matter have shown much interest in legal niceties.

The Los Angeles prosecutors should announce that -- after consulting with Polanski's attorneys and Samantha Geimer, the woman at the center of this case -- they have decided to agree to the terms of the original 1978 plea-bargain agreement. Polanski's guilty plea of sex with a minor would be accepted, the period he spent incarcerated prior to the agreement would be accepted as his sentence. I would guess that prosecutors would add a fine for Polanski's flight from the country, which would probably be accepted without complaint. (I do not know Polanski's citizenship status or whether the courts could still prevent him from returning to the U.S., but that seems a fairly minor point.)

There are two simple reasons for suggesting this settlement. The first is that it's exactly the suggestion that Ms. Geimer made herself in a strongly-worded 1978 letter to the court. Ms. Geimer, the victim in this case, has repeatedly and publicly asked for the charges against Polanski to be dropped. The original deal was, in fact, endorsed by her family's legal team. (She also received settlement from Polanski in a civil case.) Whatever one thinks of efforts to extradite Polanski, no one can claim that they are being done on the victim's behalf.

Which leads, in a way, to the second reason for returning to the 1978 deal. The already cash-strapped state of California, by bringing Polanski back to the United States (and he will almost certainly fight extradition), is committing itself to a long and expensive trial, which it will very likely lose. Why, after having disregarded her wishes so consistently, should Ms. Geimer by expected to take part in the very media circus that she and her family tried to avoid? If anything, her 1978 letter will be used by the defense.

And in addition to losing the case, they will not be able to conduct the trial without bringing a fair amount of embarrassment to their department. How can they avoid having to discuss the claims of wrongdoing and grandstanding on the part of the 1978 judge and prosecutors, charges that even the current governor of California has said are worthy of investigation? If, as some have claimed, the decision to move in on Polanski was motivated by revenge for making the district attorney's office look bad in the recent documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," any new trial will simply increase concern over the charges raised by that film.

A decision to revive the terms of the 1978 plea bargain will get a lot of criticism. Those who are howling for the director's blood will say that he got off easy - and they won't be wrong. But whatever flaws the abandoned deal had, it was still an agreement worked out and accepted by all parties. Which is more than can be said for the blogs and accusations, petitions and complaints that have dominated the discussion for the past week.

The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.