Polanski denied in absentia sentencing

Attorney plans to appeal in state court

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge has denied Roman Polanski’s effort to be sentenced in absentia, which his lawyers saw as a possible avenue for him to resolve his 1977 sex case.

Judge Peter Espinoza said on Friday that Polanski “needs to surrender” is he is to be sentenced in the case, and if there is to be a hearing on the directors’ contention that now deceased Judge Laurence Rittenband engaged in judicial misconduct back then.

Bart Dalton, one of Polanski’s attorneys, said that they would seek a remedy from a state appeals court.

Polanski is in Switzerland under house arrest, awaiting a decision from authorities there on whether he will be extradited.

In a contentious and caustic hearing, the director’s lead attorney, Chad Hummel, argued that Polanski already had served the time that Rittenband had promised — some 42 days in a California prison where he underwent a psychiatric assessment. The length of his sentence would weigh on the decision of Swiss authorities, as the extradition treaty between the United States and Switzerland applies to fugitives who face at least six months in prison, Polanski’s lawyers contend.

After pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a girl, Polanski fled the country in February 1978 before he could be formally sentenced. Hummel said that his client left the country when he got wind that the judge would renege on the deal, and also that Rittenhand was engaging in “corrupt” practices and was seeking the media spotlight. Since then, Polanski has made numerous attempts to resolve the case from afar, before he was arrested in September while he was on his way to a film festival in Switzerland.

Hummel said that a reason that Polanski has not surrendered is because “he does not trust this system.”

“What protects the dignity of the court is to honor a judicial promise,” Hummel said.

But Deputy District Attorney David Walgren, in an equally vigorous tone, said that “all he has to do is surrender, and every hearing he requests can be held in due time.” At one point referred to Polanski as “this child rapist,” triggering an admonishment from Espinoza to “not inflame” the hearing by choosing such words.

In denying Polanski’s request, Espinoza cited a legal doctrine of fugitive disentitlement, which holds that a defendant who flees authorities cannot then call upon the court for help. Last month, a state appeals court cited that doctrine in denying Polanski’s effort to dismiss the case, but they also suggested sentencing in absentia as one of his remedies in resolving the 33-year-old case.

Espinoza also denied the request of Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, in support of Polanski’s effort. Through her attorney, Lawrence Silver, she has argued that she wants to resolve the case and putting it behind her. Silver charged that Walgren failed to honor Proposition 9, an initiative commonly called “Marcy’s Law” that prosecutors consult with victims in the disposition of cases. But they never did. Walgren, however, said that Silver never followed up on messages agreeing to a meeting.

In any case, Espinoza said that he “didn’t think anyone anticipated” the victim’s rights law being used as a way to support a defendant.

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