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Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski sues to get academy membership reinstated

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ejected Polanski and Bill Cosby nearly a year ago, saying they violated its code of conduct.
Image: Roman Polanski
Film director Roman Polanski in Paris in 2017.Charles Platiau / Reuters file

LOS ANGELES — Director Roman Polanski, a fugitive from the United States for four decades after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor, is suing the organization behind the Academy Awards in a bid to reinstate his membership.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Board of Governors voted to expel Polanski and comedian Bill Cosby following longstanding sexual assault allegations against both men that angered and inspired the #MeToo movement.

In September, Cosby was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to three to 10 years behind bars.

The academy cited violation of its code of conduct when it ejected Polanski and Cosby last year.

The lawsuit filed Friday asks Los Angeles Superior Court to order the academy to reinstate Polanski, who won the Oscar for best director for his 2002 film "The Pianist."

It argues that the academy violated its own rules for expelling members and that Polanski has been a member in good standing since 1968.

A letter dated Thursday from Polanski's attorney, Harland Braun, asks the academy to "prepare and produce" documents related to the ejection.

"He got thrown out with an anonymous letter," Braun said Friday. "If the academy gives him a fair hearing he'll get to present his side. We just want a fair hearing."

Polanski says in the court filing that after he appealed the explusion, he was notifed by the academy on Jan. 26 that his request was rejected. He argues the academy failed to follow its own rules, which require "a reasonable opportunity for the member to be heard."

The academy said in a statement Friday that it stands by its decision,

"The procedures taken to expel Mr. Polanski were fair and reasonable," the academy said.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who has represented sexual assault victims in high-profile cases, said by email that the academy was right to revoke his membership.

"It sends a message that members should adhere to the law, and if they thumb their nose at the law and the values for which the academy stands that they will suffer consequences, including losing their prestigious membership in the academy," she said.

Polanski fled the United States before his sentencing in 1978. He said he believed he had a plea agreement for time served after spending 42 days in jail and pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor.

But believing an L.A. Superior Court judge was prepared to sentence him to prison, he fled. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Andrew Blankstein reported from Los Angeles and Dennis Romero from San Diego.