- Associated Press - Friday, July 16, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - American authorities are disputing who was a fault for apparent miscommunication over sealed transcripts requested by Switzerland in the Roman Polanski case _ an issue the Swiss say played a key role in the decision to refuse his extradition.

The Justice Department insisted Thursday that it notified Los Angeles prosecutors about its decision to reject the Swiss request. But Los Angeles officials said they never heard from Washington.

Swiss officials said the denial of their request to see the transcripts led them to free the director against U.S. wishes.

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.”

Gibbons’ reiterated the office’s position, saying, “We were not specifically notified of the request.”

The Justice Department said that 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 U.S. 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.

“The Department of Justice and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office worked in close coordination on this important extradition request,” Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said in an e-mail.

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, March 9 and March 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 U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, explaining what preceded the Swiss decision to deny extradition. The letter was dated Monday and obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday night.

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