A state appeals court says film director Roman Polanski, a fugitive since 1977 when he admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl, can be defended against a civil suit she has filed.
In a 2-1 ruling, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said Polanski did not forfeit the right to defend against civil claims through his attorney by his "reprehensible, irresponsible and unlawful absence."
A lawyer for the woman said the ruling, handed down Monday, would be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Polanski pleaded guilty in August, 1977, to one charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, in an incident at the home of actor Jack Nicholson. Polanski fled before being sentenced and now lives in Paris.
The civil suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in December, 1988, when the woman was 25, claims assault, battery, false imprisonment and seduction. The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, seeks damages for physical and emotional distress.
Polanski's lawyer filed papers denying the allegations. But Jane Doe's lawyers asked for a ruling declaring Polanski liable by default and barring his lawyer from taking part in the damage proceedings. They argued that a fugitive from justice should not be allowed to use the courts to defend himself.
Superior Court Judge George Dell denied a default and was upheld by the appeals court.
Justice Robert Devich, in the majority opinion, said a fugitive may be denied the right to pursue an appeal of a criminal conviction or to sue for damages. But since it was Jane Doe who took Polanski to court in the civil suit, he can defend himself through his lawyer, Devich said.
He also said Polanski's absence had suspended the normal legal deadline for the woman to file her civil suit, which otherwise might have been dismissed as being late.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Meredith Taylor, assigned to the court for the case, joined Devich's opinion. Justice Rueben A. Ortega dissented from the decision allowing Polanski to defend, saying a court "should not bow to the flagrant demands of a fugitive who refused to acknowledge its authority."