Thursday, October 1, 2009

The buck...well, bounces around a great deal

Anita Tedaldi, military wife and parent of five daughters, who has made a name for herself blogging about motherhood, gave up her adopted 18-month-old son when she realized she just didn't feel all that close to him. She told her story to Lisa Belkin of The New York Times, who also appeared with her when Tedaldi was interviewed on The Today Show. Apparently encouraged by her exposure to the world of journalism to be even-handed, Tedaldi gently informed her audience that the failure to bond "really went both ways." Well I'm all for holding kids accountable, certainly.

There is the awkward matter of Tedaldi having outspokenly criticized another adoptive couple, in print, for doing pretty much the same thing just last year, but, as Lincoln once observed, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." Meanwhile, the U.S. Military, who owns the web site on which Tedaldi's earlier article appeared, is obligingly treating the matter about like they did the death of Pat Tillman; the text is no longer there.

I read a couple of years ago the troubling story of a single mom in England who adopted an African girl about the same age as the mom's biological 7-year-old daughter. If her account is to be believed, she did everything she could to welcome the adopted child and blend her into the family, to no avail. Eventually, the adopted girl's hostility, not only toward the mother, but even more so against her adoptive sister, reached a point at which the mother feared for her biological daughter's safety. With tremendous reluctance and chagrin, she made the decision to give up the adopted child. Perhaps there was nothing else she could do.

I certainly don't wish for little "Baby D," as Tedaldi refers to her adopted son, to grow up in a house where his closest caregiver is continually judging his bonding skills and finding them wanting; he deserves better, and I hope he is placed in an emotionally healthy home. I could even respect Tedaldi if, chastened by her experience, she took time off from blogging about motherhood for a period of reflection. But we must be realistic; book deals and appearances on Oprah wait for no one. Who knows but that one day the little tyke may pen his own book about "Mommy T" and the strange mismatch between her blogging skills and her nurturing abilities.

This week's other poster child for forgiving one's own mistakes and blowing off the stodgy critics is Roman Polanski, on whose behalf over 100 luminaries of the entertainment world have signed a petition demanding his immediate release from custody, following his recent arrest in Switzerland. These include Woody Allen, whose nude photos of his adopted stepdaughter broke up his long-time partnership with Mia Farrow, and the noted moral philosopher Harvey Weinstein, who can see more clearly than most of us that Polanski was sufficiently punished for his "so-called crime" with a 30-year inability to attend Hollywood parties.

As is well known, Polanski accepted an unchaperoned visit from aspiring 13-year-old model Samantha Gailey at the home of Jack Nicholson (never mind!) in 1977, photographed her nude, plied her with champagne and quaaludes, and then sexually assaulted her, ignoring her repeated protests and requests to leave.

No one but Hollywood libertines are in serious doubt as to the hideous nature of Polanski's actions that night. Yes, I know future Chief Justice John Marshall started courting his future wife when she was 14 and Marshall was 26, but that was in a day when Marshall would have been shot by her outraged father had he so much as kissed her and not followed through shortly after with a trip to the church to make good. And it may be that 15-year-old Nastassia Kinski acted with perfectly free choice upon beginning a sexual liaison with Polanski; frankly, if I had a maniac like Klaus Kinski for a father, I too might find even Polanski's company a desirable alternative.

Polanski's actions with Gailey, in any case, were completely beyond the pale, and he was rightly convicted. The moral issue is clear. What is tangled is the legal issue, an entanglement caused by the egregious misconduct of the late judge Laurence Rittenband, who first approved, and then gave every indication of intending to renege on, a plea bargain supported by the victim's own family. Rittenband seems to have done this, moreover, on the advice of a District Attorney who wasn't even involved in the case, itself an instance of judicial misbehavior. In desperation, Polanski fled the court's jurisdiction and then went abroad, which was another crime added to the one for which he had already been convicted.

If Polanski's celebrity status should not win him special treatment, neither should it have made him the special victim of a judge's personal pique, in violation not only of judicial ethics but of an agreement that the victim and her family had acknowledged was in her best interests. The larger legal issue is whether, having reached a court-approved plea bargain, a defendant for any crime, at any level of wealth or social prominence, should have to wonder if the court will honor its own agreement or decide, on a whim, to suddenly "get tough."

Polanski is apparently an unrepentant reprobate, and one could wish to see him humiliated and abused as his victim was that night all those years ago. But the law should serve justice, not become an instrument of popular revenge. If they wanted his hide, the court should have rejected the plea bargain and insisted on imposing the maximum sentence to begin with. If a foolish, publicity-hungry judge can do this to a celebrity, what might he do to any of us? Polanski's original sentence was for time previously served; to this, a reasonable penalty of additional time should be added for having fled legal jurisdiction.

© Michael Huggins, 2009. All rights reserved.

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