Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Roman Polanski

The Judge

Movie poster: Wanted and Desired
Movie poster: Wanted and Desired

In the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, much airtime is given to the judge. Rittenband, by the time he'd presided over the Polanski case, had already had quite a long career. He was also accustomed to handling celebrity cases, having ruled on Elvis Presley's divorce, Marlon Brando's custody battle, and Cary Grant's paternity suit. He seemed to relish being in the limelight and enjoyed proceeding over the high-profile cases.

In his own world, he was something of a celebrity himself. He was a well-known, longstanding member Hillcrest Country Club in Beverly Hills, where he often mingled with movie stars, and was still a bachelor at the age of 71. A girlfriend noted that he loved champagne.

Throughout the Polanski proceedings, he was mercurial, swinging between congenial and stern, swinging from seemingly impartial to sympathetic to Polanski. Still, he was known to be a tough judge and tough sentencer. Steve Barshop, a now-retired attorney, said, "If you didn't have the deal in place when you went in there, you were in trouble."

In Wanted and Desired, Rittenband is painted as someone who was in love with the spotlight. Samantha herself said: "I was young but I felt the judge was enjoying the publicity. The judge didn't care about what happened to me, the judge didn't care about what happened to Polanski. He was orchestrating some sort of show I didn't want to be in."

Certainly, several things he did were unorthodox. He was press-savvy and took pains to make comments that would help shape the way the story was covered.

He gave courtroom "reservations" to different publications fighting to cover the trial.

The initial sentencing appeared to be cut and dry. The judge ordered Polanski evaluated by two psychiatrists to clear him of being a mentally disordered sex offender. Sentencing would follow. Polanski was evaluated and passed with flying colors.

But prior to the sentencing date, Rittenbad held a private meeting with the prosecution and defense teams to share with them the findings of the two court appointed psychologists, and to tell them how he was going to rule — he would recommend a 90-day sentence for diagnostic study at the California Institute for Men at Chino, essentially further psychiatric evaluation. Rittenbad told the lawyers that he would be walking through the two psychologists' recommendations and would then state his ruling. The lawyers were to pretend they didn't know how he was going to rule. In other words, the judge told them to fake it.

Implicit in this was the understanding that Polanski wouldn't be sentenced to hard time in a prison and would receive probation.

Until then, Polanski was free to go to finish a movie overseas. He had 90 days, and every 90 days Dalton could request a continuance for up to a year. But while overseas, Polanski went to Germany and attended an Oktoberfest event. He was with several people, including some women, in a crowd of 10,000 people in a tent. A photographer passing by noticed him, and snapped a few quick shots of the director lounging with women, smoking a cigar, and drinking beer. The photos were swiftly published around the world.

For someone who was supposed to be hard at work on his next project, it was not a good look. Rittenband was incensed and believed he'd been duped. He was embarrassed. All bets were off. He wanted Polanski back in the country and made clear that prison might now be back on the table.

After testimony from all parties, the judge found that Roman Polanski was indeed working, but Rittenband was still irate. No further stays were granted and Polanski, then prepping his next movie, Hurricane, went into protective custody at Chino. At Chino, Polanksi was put on cleaning detail. After serving 42 days, he was released — the psychological report recommended probation.

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