California court rejects Polanski appeal

Cites concerns over possible judicial, prosecutorial misconduct

California’s Court of Appeal has denied Roman Polanski’s effort to dismiss the 32-year-old child sex case against him, but the appellate panel is also urging that claims of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct from the initial handling of the case be investigated.

In a 70-page opinion issued Monday, the Second District appellate panel issued a 3-0 ruling that rejects the request of Polanski’s attorney to dismiss the case stemming from a 1977 incident with a 13-year-old girl. A dismissal would have allowed Polanski to remain in Europe, where he is awaiting a decision on extradition to the United States after his arrest in Switzerland.

Polanski’s lawyers had argued for a dismissal after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza refused to consider the charges of misconduct unless Polanski was present. But Monday’s ruling backed up Espinoza.

“We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine and refusing to consider dismissing the action,” Justice Laurie D. Zelon wrote with the concurrence of Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Justice Fred Woods. A 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” raised new questions about the conduct and fairness of the L.A. Superior Court judge who originally presided over the case, Laurence Rittenband. Rittenband died in 1993.

“We do not disregard the extremely serious allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct that have been brought forward, but urge the parties to take steps to investigate and to respond to the claims,” Zelon wrote.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office issued a two-sentence statement Monday that did not address the specific criticisms leveled at the office.

“The ruling today by the Court of Appeals is another step in the resolution of the Polanski sentencing,” spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said. “We await a decision by the Swiss courts on his extradition to Los Angeles so all issues can be resolved by the Superior Court.”

Polanski pleaded guilty in August 1977 to having unlawful sex with the girl earlier that year but fled the country in February 1978 before he was sentenced after learning that the judge might not agree to conditions of the plea bargain. He was arrested in Switzerland in September on a U.S. warrant stemming from case. Earlier this month, Swiss authorities released him from jail on $4.5 million bail “pending extradition” to the United States.

Monday’s ruling also suggested Polanski could ask to be sentenced in absentia, then argue that the sentence would be for time already served. It also presented the option of cooperating with the extradition, returning to California and asking that the case be dismissed.

“Polanski is not without any remedy,” the opinion said. “He is only without the remedy that he prefers: complete release not only from any threat of future punishment, but also from the very charges themselves — despite the fact that no misconduct has been alleged impacting the validity or voluntariness of Polanski’s plea to unlawful sexual intercourse — and all without ever having to subject himself to the jurisdiction of the court.”

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