Tuesday, December 22, 2009
C.A. Rejects Polanski Move to Have Case Dismissed
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday rejected filmmaker Roman Polanski’s bid to have his 32-year-old sex case dismissed, but cited grave concerns over possible judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.
Div. One said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza did not err when he ruled that Polanski had to return to the United States to argue for the case to be tossed out.
However, Justice Laurie D. Zelon wrote that the justices remained “deeply concerned” about alleged misconduct by a now-deceased judge and a retired prosecutor who advised him.
“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,” she said.
While a blow to Polanski’s efforts to have the case dismissed and win his freedom from Swiss authorities, the ruling cast serious doubt on how the case was handled.
The new focus ignited public passions, with some angrily calling for Polanski to be imprisoned. Others, including some colleagues in the film industry, have advocated for his freedom.
The three-judge panel faulted Polanski for fleeing the country rather than seeking legal remedies at the time and said Espinoza did not abuse his discretion when he applied the fugitive disentitlement doctrine to Polanski’s Penal Code Sec. 1385 request for dismissal in furtherance of justice. The doctrine denies court processes to those who flee to avoid prosecution.
The justices raised a number of potential options for Polanski, including seeking sentencing in absentia, but did not require further action by the trial judge.
Polanski wears an electronic monitoring device while under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, fighting extradition. He was arrested as a fugitive when he arrived to attend a film festival in September.
His attorneys argued earlier this month that misconduct in the case was grounds for dismissal of a charge of having unlawful sex with a minor. They also contended Polanski did not need to be present to argue for dismissal.
The Court of Appeal, while acknowledging the alleged misconduct, disagreed but said a more thorough examination of the case should occur at the lower court level.
“The passage of more time before this case’s final resolution will further hamper the search for truth and the delivery of any appropriate relief, and it will also prolong the agony that the lack of finality in this matter continues to cause Samantha Geimer,” Zelon said.
The justice noted that the court was identifying the victim in the 1977 case because Geimer publicly identified herself long ago.
Polanski fled the United States in 1978 on the eve of sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of unlawful sexual contact with Geimer. Her attorney argued she had the right to ask that the case be dismissed and urged the court to do so.
Polanski was accused of plying the teen with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill, then raping her during a modeling shoot at actor Jack Nicholson’s house in 1977. Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molestation and sodomy. He later pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse in a plea bargain.
Zelon’s 70-page opinion exhaustively reviewed the case’s entire history. During oral arguments, the justice questioned a prosecutor about why the office had not investigated recent allegations of misconduct by a judge and prosecutor during Polanski’s 1977 court proceedings.
“Fundamental fairness and justice in our criminal justice system are far more important than the conviction and sentence of any one individual,” she wrote yesterday.
In the opinion’s opening, Zelon recognized the unique circumstances of the Polanski case, calling her opinion “another chapter of what surely must be one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history.”
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Justice Fred Woods joined Zelon in her opinion.
Polanski remains under house arrest at his Swiss chalet. Authorities there say they will resolve whether to extradite the “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” director to the United States sometime next year.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said the Court of Appeal’s ruling was “another step in the resolution of the Polanski sentencing,” adding:
“We await a decision by the Swiss courts on his extradition to Los Angeles so all issues can be resolved by the Superior Court.”
A spokesperson for Polanski’s attorneys, Chad Hummel and Douglas Dalton, said they would not be commenting.
Marina Zenovich, whose HBO documentary on the case, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” raised the allegations of misconduct, declined to comment.
The justices quoted extensively from the documentary’s interviews with David Wells, a retired deputy Los Angeles district attorney who claimed to have secretly advised the late Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband on what to do in the case. Wells, who did not immediate return a phone call, has since said he lied in the documentary.
The Court of Appeal is the second court to raise concerns about Polanski’s treatment by the courts. Earlier this year, Espinoza said Polanski had to return to the United States to argue for dismissal even though there appeared to be “substantial misconduct.”
Loyola University Law Professor Stan Goldman said Polanski most likely would have to return to the United States to have the matter resolved.
“They have such a strong ruling from the appeals court,” he said, “They should consider agreeing to extradite him.”
Goldman said Polanski would likely face a brief stay in jail after arrival.
“But it would be relatively brief and the court is suggesting he would be free,” Goldman said.
The case is Polanski v. Superior Court (People), 09 S.O.S. 7129.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company