"The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for error; and those of the poor and lowly, for crimes."
-Lady Marguerite Blessington
Cynics say the term "celebrity justice" is an oxymoron. They point to the cases of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson as examples; but most recently they point to Roman Polanski as the reason for their cynicism. However, after 30 years of evading justice, the notorious director-indicted in 1977 for drugging, raping, and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl-may finally be required give an account for his actions.
In the meantime, Hollywood's crème de la crème (which, ironically, had gathered in Switzerland to present him with a lifetime achievement award) has come to Polanski's defense. This elite group-which apparently finds nothing criminal or perverse about Polanski's behavior-has acted as an apologist for Polanski, and attempted to use its celebrity influence to prevent his extradition to the United States.
This case is a classic example of a gross double standard of justice at work between the average citizen and the rich, powerful, and famous. Polanski's supporters are, in effect, arguing that he should receive a free pass because of his brilliance and talent. Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser's comment says it all:
"I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss is doing such a thing to brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work.... He's a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland."
Nevermind that what Roman Polanski did was morally repugnant (not to mention illegal). Nevermind the fact that he is a man who has exhibited no qualms about taking advantage of young, impressionable girls. As far as the artistic community is concerned, Polanski's brilliance as a filmmaker trumps his responsibilities as a member of the human race and immunizes him from the need for accountability before the law. Using this same train of logic one can only assume that if Polanski were a mere pedestrian filmmaker, his fellow artists might be less willing to give him a pass.
This same warped mindset has infiltrated other parts of our society-a society increasingly obsessed with the antics and peccadilloes of the rich and famous. Consequently, securing justice in situations involving criminal accusations against giants of the entertainment industry is often difficult. So too in the political arena, where elected officials at every level of government routinely engage in reckless conduct with an arrogance possessed only by those convinced that they are above the law.
Imagine the consequences for the average Joe if he admitted to engaging in sexual relations at the workplace with a variety of female subordinates. He would be fired on the spot. What if he were exposed for tax evasion? Jail time and heavy fines, no doubt. And finally, what if our average Joe were indicted for drugging a 13-year-old girl and performing lewd sex acts upon her semi-conscious body? If convicted, he could count on a stiff jail sentence followed by a conspicuous spot on the national database of sex offenders, no job prospects, and little chance of regaining respectable standing in the community.
For celebrities like David Letterman, Charles Rangel, or Roman Polanski, however, none of these consequences appear to apply. Letterman's primary worry in the aftermath of his on-air confession seems to be with his ratings-which, by the way, have skyrocketed. Charles Rangel continues to preside over the appropriation of our tax dollars as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Roman Polanski receives a lifetime achievement award for excellence in filmmaking.
Exempting the rich and famous from the need to conform to the moral norms and prevailing laws of society makes a mockery of the principle of justice. As history has demonstrated, a just society cannot exist if the rule of law is not applied equally to all. Roman Polanski may be a brilliant filmmaker. His work may be admired the world over. He may be an inspiration to his peers. But none of this vitiates his obligations under the law.
Polanski should be extradited to the United States and made to answer for his actions. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. Thankfully, after more than three decades of thumbing his nose at the Lady Justice, for Mr. Polanski the chickens are finally coming home to roost.
Ken Connor is the Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC, the former President of the Family Research Council, and a nationally recognized trial lawyer.