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Polanski wins a stay on hearing in sex case

An appellate court gave a boost Tuesday to Roman Polanski’s attempt to disqualify the Los Angeles County Superior Court and all of its judges from handling his request to have a 1977 child sex abuse case thrown out.

A three-judge panel in the state Court of Appeals’ 2nd District granted an emergency stay in proceedings sought by attorneys for the fugitive filmmaker, postponing and possibly scuttling a heavily anticipated proceeding that was expected to draw an international contingent of media to the downtown courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

In a filing Tuesday morning, attorneys for the acclaimed filmmaker said allowing the hearing to go forward before Judge Peter Espinoza, the supervising judge of the court’s criminal division, or any other judge on the local bench would do “irreparable harm” to Polanski.

Attorneys for Polanski, the director of such films as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” asserted that statements by a court spokesman as well as the conduct of a judge involved in negotiations with the director a dozen years ago are evidence of bias against the defendant and cause to disqualify all of the court’s judges.

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Espinoza, the supervising judge of the criminal division, has refused to step aside, insisting in a written ruling earlier this month that he was not prejudiced against Polanski and had an open mind about the issues raised by his lawyers.

The appellate judges’ order did not comment on the case, but gave the district attorney’s office 10 days to file a written response.

The district attorney’s office maintains that Polanski must return to the United States, where he would face arrest, to make the request and has urged the judge to cancel the proceeding unless he appears in person.

The 75-year-old director, who now lives in France, acknowledged having intercourse with a 13-year-old aspiring model during a photo shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house and pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful intercourse with a minor. He fled to Europe on the eve of sentencing after being informed that a judge planned to sentence him to prison over the recommendation of a probation official and the wishes of the victim.

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A 31-year-old warrant for Polanski’s arrest remains in effect, and he was not expected to attend Wednesday’s scheduled hearing.

Polanski’s request for a dismissal of the charge is grounded largely in revelations contained in an HBO documentary broadcast last year, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”

In the documentary, David Wells, a deputy district attorney not directly involved in the case, acknowledged telling Judge Lawrence Rittenband, who presided over the original case, that Polanski was making the judge look foolish and recommended that Polanski be sentenced to prison.

The victim, Samantha Geimer, now 45 and living in Hawaii with her husband and three children, has been an outspoken advocate for Polanski’s cause and condemned prosecutors last week for fighting the dismissal of the charges. Reached at his home in Paso Robles, Wells, who is now retired, said he regretted participating in the documentary.

“A lot of that stuff I said was just off the top of my head,” he said. Still, he said he thought that Polanski’s request would be turned aside.

“He has no standing. He’s not here. He’s a fugitive,” he said.

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harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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