Lawyers in the Roman Polanski sex case are sparring over the timing of a Jan. 22 hearing on whether it’s appropriate to sentence the director in absentia.
The latest dispute arose Tuesday with a request by prosecutors for a delay of at least a month. Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a letter to Judge Peter Espinoza that the jurist should wait until after Feb. 22, when the appeals court’s December decision denying Polanski’s dismissal motion is finalized.
Cooley said Espinoza, the supervising judge of the L.A. County Superior Court’s criminal division, would not have jurisdiction until after the issuance of a “remittitur,” the legal term for an appeal’s transmittal of a case back to the trial court.
Polanski’s attorney Chad S. Hummel wrote in response Wednesday that the finality of the appeals court decision has no bearing on Espinoza’s ability to sentence Polanski in absentia. And he accused the District Attorney of trying to thwart the “necessary” investigation into alleged judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, as recommended by the appeals court.
“However, if the DA is truly concerned with phantom ‘jurisdictional’ issues, then the DA may stipulate to immediate issuance of the remitittur,” Hummel wrote, adding that Polanski would support that action.
Cooley responded that he would agree to such a step, emphasizing that he has no interest in further delaying the 33-year-old case.
“In fact, the People again implore the defendant to waive further extradition proceedings so that he can have his day in court,” Cooley said. “Knowing that result is highly unlikely and contrary to everything the defendant has stated to date, the People would readily agree” to send the case back to the trial court to decide.
In their Dec. 21 appeals court ruling, the three-judge panel 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 Polanski cooperating with the extradition, returning to California and asking that the case be dismissed.
In a letter signed Dec. 26 in Gstaad, Switzerland, where Polanski is under house arrest, the director wrote, “I request that judgment be pronounced against me in my absence.”
Espinoza accepted the letter last week but declined to schedule a sentencing hearing immediately. Instead, he told the lawyers to submit briefs on whether a sentencing in absentia was appropriate and set the Jan. 22 hearing for arguments.
Polanski pleaded guilty in August 1977 to having unlawful sex with a 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. Last month, Swiss authorities released him from jail on $4.5 million bail “pending extradition” to the United States.