|Roman Polanksi was freed after the Justice Department rejected a Swiss request to see sealed testimony by a prosecutor.|
Sides point fingers over miscommunication in Polanski case
LOS ANGELES — The Roman Polanski case took another strange turn yesterday, with American prosecutors disputing who was responsible for an apparent miscommunication about sealed transcripts requested by Swiss authorities.
Swiss officials said their request to see the transcripts was denied — a choice that led them to free the director against US wishes.
The Justice Department insisted that it notified Los Angeles prosecutors about its decision to reject the Swiss request. But Los Angeles officials said they never heard from Washington.
The dispute was not likely to change Polanski’s status since prosecutors had previously argued against unsealing the secret testimony. But Los Angeles authorities maintained they were not asked. The miscommunication was another in a long series of prosecutorial missteps that have dogged the case from its inception in 1977.
Loyola University law professor Stan Goldman said the current flap was mostly about attorneys “pointing fingers at each other.’’
“It’s an embarrassment for the district attorney’s office,’’ he said. “It was they who were seeking to get Polanski back, and they have failed.’’
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, declined to comment on what prosecutors would have done if they had known of the request.
“We don’t comment on ‘what if’ questions,’’ she said. “That’s speculation.’’
The Justice Department said it kept the district attorney’s office fully informed of all requests from Swiss authorities regarding the effort to have Polanski extradited to the United States.
The department said Cooley’s office provided input and “approved all responses from the US government to Swiss authorities on this matter,’’ including one rejecting a request to turn over sealed testimony that proved pivotal in Switzerland’s decision to free Polanski.
Polanski’s legal team had moved to unseal the documents, which contained testimony by the film director’s original prosecutor, Roger Gunson, who had testified in secret on Feb. 26 and March 9 and 10 in what is called a “conditional examination.’’
The testimony was to be used only if Gunson became ill or otherwise unavailable to testify in person at future proceedings. It was sealed.
The Justice Department had told the Swiss that the transcripts could not be provided, according to a letter from Swiss officials to the US Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, explaining what preceded the Swiss decision to deny extradition.
The Swiss had said their extradition laws allowed Polanski to be sent to the United States only if he was going to be required to serve at least six months in prison. They sought the testimony of Gunson to clarify the matter.