Polanski loses bid to dismiss rape case

Court criticizes actions of judge

By Linda Deutsch
Associated Press / December 22, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - In a case that has polarized public opinions, director Roman Polanski did not win his freedom yesterday for a 32-year-old sex offense, but an appeals court said in a strongly worded opinion there was probable judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in his case.

The opinion criticized Polanski for fleeing to his native France in 1978 but suggested two legal options that could lead to his freedom now - file a motion to be sentenced in absentia, or drop his extradition fight, return to the United States and be sentenced in person, most likely not resulting in additional jail time.

Polanski wears an electronic monitoring device while under house arrest in Switzerland, where he was arrested as a fugitive when he arrived to attend a film festival in September.

“We encourage all participating parties to do their utmost to ensure that this matter now draws to a close in a manner that fully addresses the issues of due process and fundamental fairness raised by the events of long ago,’’ the court’s opinion states.

They rejected the request for outright dismissal, which was raised by Polanski and the lawyer for his victim, Samantha Geimer. But the justices said they were “deeply concerned’’ about probable misconduct by a judge, who is now deceased, and a retired prosecutor who advised him. They urged further investigation.

The new focus on the case inflamed public opinion worldwide. Some angrily called for Polanski to be imprisoned. Others advocated for his freedom.

The appeals court faulted Polanski for fleeing the country.

“Even in light of our fundamental concern about the misconduct that has been alleged here with significant evidentiary support, flight was not Polanski’s only option. It was not even his best option,’’ the decision said.

It said his lawyers should have immediately sought to disqualify the judge.

The court supported a ruling by Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza, who refused to hear Polanski’s case without the director’s presence. They said that was within the judge’s discretion under a doctrine that denies court processes to those who flee to avoid prosecution.

Polanski, who was famous then as the director of “Chinatown’’ and “Rosemary’s Baby,’’ was accused of plying the teen with champagne and a Quaalude pill, then raping her in 1977. Polanski was indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs and child molesting. He pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse in a plea bargain. The judge, who had promised no further jail time, reneged and was planning to sentence him more harshly.