The Justice Department and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office are squaring off against each other in a blame game over who is at fault for a mix-up over sealed transcripts Swiss officials requested in the Roman Polanski case, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The Swiss asked to see sealed testimony from the original prosecutor on the film director’s case. But the DOJ refused to provide the transcripts, leading to the decision by the Swiss not to extradite Polanski to the United States to stand trial in a decades-old unlawful sexual intercourse case.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office insists they were not told about the request, despite pledges from the DOJ to keep them abreast of case developments, according to the AP. The DOJ told the AP that they notified Los Angeles prosecutors about their decision not to release the sealed transcripts.
It is unlikely the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office would have agreed to give the Swiss the testimony since the prosecutors had previously been against unsealing the transcripts, according to the AP.
Swiss officials have told U.S. authorities that Roman Polanski likely will be extradited to Los Angeles to face sentencing for a 31-year-old crime, according to email records released by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Polanski, 76, is the internationally famous director of such films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Last month he was arrested at Zurich’s airport on a fugitive warrant, after had fled the U.S. three decades ago in advance of his sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Polanski has argued that the judge in the case was corrupt. He’s moved about openly in Europe since then, and even owns a home in the Swiss resort of Gstaad. Questions have been raised about the timing of the arrest, and whether Switzerland was trying to placate the U.S. after spurning its demands to turn over the names of suspected tax cheats with accounts at Swiss bank UBS AG.
Justice Department officials and Swiss justice officials discussed the extradition in an Oct. 5 conversation, The LA Times reported. In referring to the conversation, Diana Carbajal, a deputy district attorney in the extradition services department, in an email to her supervisor earlier this month wrote, “While the Swiss officials cannot speak for the judge, the extradition will likely be ordered based upon the facts submitted in our papers,” The LA Times reported.
Last week, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office sent a package summarizing the case to DOJ officials in Washington, D.C., which they are expected to pass along to Swiss prosecutors.
According to Carbajal’s email, Swiss officials urged U.S. prosecutors to to address allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct leveled by Polanski’s attorneys, The LA Times reported. Polanski is being represented by Steptoe & Johnson’s Reid Weingarten, a prominent criminal defense lawyer and close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder.
Meanwhile, it turns out that one of the Justice Department officials working on the matter is Nick Marsh, a former member of the Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) prosecution team. Marsh was moved out of the Public Integrity Section earlier this year after he and other Stevens prosecutors came under criminal contempt of court investigation for their handling of evidence.
Marsh landed at the DOJ’s Office of International Affairs, where he’s been dealing with the Swiss on the Polanski matter.
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Roman Polanski may have Hollywood on his side, but he’s not betting on Tinseltown to get him out the clink.
The prominent fugitive-director has hired Steptoe & Johnson’s Reid Weingarten, a well-known criminal defense lawyer and close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder.
Polanski, 76, was arrested last weekend at Zurich’s airport on a 31-year-old fugitive warrant issued after he skipped sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The addition of Weingarten, who has known Holder since the two worked together in the department’s Public Integrity Section in the 1970s, means Polanski now has a powerful advocate in Washington.
The New York Times reports:
The recruiting of Mr. Weingarten was a strong signal that Mr. Polanski’s legal team intends to push hard on the Washington end of the case. Mr. Polanski was arrested on his way to the Zurich Film Festival after Swiss authorities received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting that he be held for possible extradition to the United States.
The Justice Department wrote the letter on behalf of Los Angeles prosecutors. Polanski fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor. As part of a plea agreement, he avoided other charges, including rape and sodomy. But he was never sentenced.
Weingarten, who declined to comment, will be instrumental in Polanski’s efforts to stop the extradition before the issue wends through the Swiss legal system. As the Times notes, Polanski could argue that his crime does not qualify, because he was sentenced to less than a year in prison, or that he effectively served his sentence during a 42-day psychiatric evaluation.
Weingarten advised Holder during the confirmation process, and he represented Holder in congressional hearings that explored the then-Deputy Attorney General’s role in the controversial pardon by President Clinton of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Weingarten also helped Holder in the founding of the See Forever Foundation, which helps disadvantaged children.
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We weren’t the only ones who immediately thought, UBS!, when we heard that Switzerland had arrested film director Roman Polanski, long a fugitive from U.S. justice.
Call us conspiratorial, but after living openly in Switzerland for years, the only reason we could see for the arrest now of the 76-year-old Polanski was that the Alpine tax haven was trying to placate the U.S. after the Swiss refused to hand over the names of 52,000 Americans suspected of hiding assets from the IRS at UBS AG. The dispute over the Swiss bank sparked a huge diplomatic row and ended with Switzerland agreeing to let UBS hand over a more limited number of names.
Well, it appears an editor at The Associated Press had the same idea. In an embarrassing mistake, The AP sent out a “news story” on its wire that was actually internal reporting notes — the kind of raw exchanges between reporters and editors at news organizations as they prepare stories, but which are, quite obviously, not meant for public consumption.
Part of the note, which briefly appeared on The New York Times web site, said:
new york is really hot on this. they particularly want to know why now. (has he never set foot in switzerland before?) sheila, theorizes that’s because they’re under intense pressure over ubs and want to throw the U.S. a bone, but can you check with justice department sources there
Polanski is one of Europe’s most celebrated fugitives. The director of such classics as Chinatown hopped out of the the United States 31 years ago after admitting in a plea bargain he’d had sex with a 13-year-old girl in the home of actor Jack Nicholson. He was also the husband of actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered when she was eight months pregnant in the couple’s Los Angeles home by members of the Charles Manson cult. As a child, he escaped the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland after the Nazi invasion, but lost his father at Auschwitz.
Polanski says he will fight extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted by local authorities in Los Angeles.
Here is the full text of The AP “story,” which was quickly withdrawn:
Swiss arrest Polanski on US request in sex case
Associated Press, 09.27.09, 10:41 AM EDT
OK, can you do some more probing? New York will want to know
frank’s out today.
i checked already, and so did zurich. they say the question is irrelevant. he answered me with the quote i used, about we knew when he was coming this time. he’s been here many times in the past, we think.
thx brad. aptn is aware, but unfortunately won’t make it in time, but is hoping to catch tail end.
i’m pushing out another writethru with some more background details before press conference.
no surprise, new york is really hot on this.
they particularly want to know why now. (has he never set foot in switzerland before?) sheila, theorizes that’s because they’re under intense pressure over ubs and want to throw the U.S. a bone, but can you check with justice department sources there?
is frank around too, or are you alone?
u can tell aptn press conf 1700 (15 gmt) in bern at the parliament
i’ll watch it live on internet
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After nearly 30 years, the Department of Justice has finally nabbed one of its most-wanted. Famed film director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) has being fleeing U.S. authorities since his arrest for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old in 1978. He was taken into custody in Zurich Sunday morning and faces extradition to Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, the L.A. Times has the best coverage, including his life in photos (nice one with Sharon Tate circa late 1969). He was arrested as he arrived in the Swiss city to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival.
Polanski’s attorneys are reportedly shocked, shocked.
“We absolutely were not expecting such an arrest, in so far as he regularly goes to Switzerland, and he’s done so for several years,” lawyer Herve Temime told Le Figaro, adding that Polanski “even owns a chalet situated in the Gstaad,” a Swiss ski village.
His extradition could take months. U.S. authorities have 60 days to file formal papers requesting his extradition. Polanski can ask the Swiss Federal Penal Court of Justice to reject those papers, and, if he is denied, appeal to a higher court, the Federal Court of Justice.
Back at Main Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has pledged to revitalize the civil rights division with a renewed focus on minority-discrimination cases, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
Under the Bush administration the civil rights division was “destroyed,” John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told the Post. Instead of the traditional civil rights focus, the Bushies expanded the agenda to include complaints of religious discrimination and human trafficking, they also hired lawyers who shared their conservative ideology – some with little to no civil rights experience – for career jobs.
It’s all about Obama’s legacy. Holder has pledged to make the division “’his crown jewel’ by returning its focus to protecting minorities against discrimination,” the Post reports. “What becomes of these cases, and others like them, will help determine the meaning of justice in the Obama administration.”
Rebuilding the civil rights division seems like a cakewalk compared to the legal gauntlet Obama is running when it comes to closing Gitmo.
One of Obama’s biggest obstacles to closing Gitmo by January is determining where to send about 100 Yemenis, the largest single group of prisoners by nationality, Bloomberg reports.
The U.S. wants many of them to go to a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are refusing to take them and Yemen’s president wants them sent back home. The U.S. wants to avoid that for security reasons.
The Justice Department on Saturday announced that they had agreed to send one former Gitmo detainee back to Yemen and two others to the government of Ireland. The move will leave about 240 detainees remaining at the prison, which the administration conceded this week it may not be able to close by January.
The New York Times weighs in with profiles of the two latest terrorism suspects, one, a Jordanian teenager who allegedly plotted to blow up a Dallas skyscraper, and the other, a U.S. citizen who was targeting a federal building in Springfield, Ill.
Are these two just nice young men or U.S.-hating, cold-blooded terrorists? Friends say each were each extremely helpful to them. A pal of Michael Finton, the suspect in the Illinois plot, even called him a “role model.” But others say Finton, who went by the nickname Talib Islam (student of Islam), “didn’t like America very much” and “thought we needed more rules, so that people would behave.”
Authorities started watching Finton’s every move after a search of his car turned up a letter about his dreams of being a martyr and a document about waiting for a “return letter” from John Walker Lindh.
Friends painted an even more complex portrait of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi. He drove a single mother to the grocery store, lent her money when she didn’t have enough to feed her two children – even gave her a cell phone when hers broke and got her a job as a cashier and drove her to work.
But the criminal complaint reveals a dark side. An agent posing as a senior member of an al Qaeda sleeper cell befriended Smadi, and he responded to the call. He pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, saying “I love him as I love my father,” expressed anger over the invasion of Gaza by the Israelis and vowed he was “ready for the jihadi life.”
According to Politico, Republican Rep. Aaron Schock’s district office in Springfield was on of the targets of Finton’s planned terrorist attack.
The evidence against Finton and Smadi seems pretty solid (Finton was caught in a sting operation while driving a van he thought was loaded with explosives to the Paul Findley Federal Building. He even allegedly parked the car and made phone calls he believed would trigger a blast killing or injuring people inside the building!)
But a new study says federal agencies are only prosecuting about one out of four terrorism suspects and suggests federal agencies can’t even agree on who is a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.
People charged with terrorism often go free because the evidence wasn’t strong enough to bring them to trial, says the study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University, the AP reports.
“According to the data, U.S. attorneys reported that the cases brought to them by investigators were often based on weak or insufficient admissible evidence, lacked criminal intent or did not constitute a federal offense.”
Of course, the Justice Department disagrees with TRAC’s analysis and conclusions. A spokesman said the report omits some statistics and uses data that differs from the agency’s information.
Numerous organizations across the federal government – the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – just to name a few – enforce the laws associated with terrorism while federal prosecutors determine which cases will be brought to court.
All have different ways of identifying terror-related crimes – and TRAC found that about one-third of the defendants charged with a terrorism offense were not categorized as having a connection to terrorism. The findings led TRAC to conclude that the government must do a better job defining and focusing its terrorism enforcement.
The New York Times also ran a piece about the plummeting Supreme Court docket. In the early 1980s, SCOTUS decided more than 150 cases a year. These days it decides half that many.
What gives? Is SCOTUS getting lazy? The Supreme Court advocacy clinic at Yale Law School held a conference to explore the mystery of the shrinking docket.
“Participants blamed the newer justices, others their clerks. Some blamed Congress for not cranking out enough confusing legislation. And some blamed the Justice Department, which is filing fewer appeals,” the Times reported.
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