Roman Polanski is denied latest bid to resolve 40-year-old statutory rape case
A Los Angeles County judge has denied the latest effort by Roman Polanski to resolve his 40-year-old statutory rape case, saying that the filmmaker cannot be sentenced in absentia because he remains a fugitive from justice.
In a written decision handed down Monday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon said that Polanski’s current motions are based on the same arguments previously presented and rejected by other judges. “No sufficient or compelling basis for reconsideration of these issues … has been presented,” he wrote in the 13-page decision.
Gordon wrote that Polanski’s fugitive status prevents him “from obtaining the relief he desires until he presents himself in the court’s jurisdiction.” The ruling is similar in substance to previous court decisions in which judges have said that Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978 and resides in France, must return to the country in order to pursue his requests.
But on Monday, Gordon agreed to a hearing later this month to consider a controversial piece of testimony that the filmmaker is seeking to unseal.
In recent court filings and at a court hearing in March, Polanski asked to be sentenced in absentia, arguing that he has already exceeded the custody time he was originally required to serve. He also noted that courts in Poland and Switzerland have turned down separate extradition requests by U.S. officials, citing procedural irregularities in the case.
The 83-year-old filmmaker has offered to return to the United States and appear in court if it agrees to sentence him first.
Harland Braun, Polanski’s defense attorney, said in an interview Monday that the decision is “a total whitewash and abdication of judicial responsibility.” He said the decision fails to address crucial elements of the case, including allegations that prior judges were told by court officials how to rule.
“I represent an attempt to straighten out 40 years of judicial misconduct and to see if L.A. Superior Court can heal itself. It can’t,” Braun said.
When asked if Polanski plans to continue pursuing the case, Braun said: “We’re going to decide what to do.”
For years, Polanski has alleged extensive judicial misconduct, starting with the original judge. The filmmaker contends that the corruption has continued for decades, arguing that subsequent judges followed marching orders set by court officials.
The director has long sought to unseal testimony given in 2010 by Roger Gunson, the original prosecutor in the case. Polanski’s lawyer has argued that the testimony contains vital information and should be part of the public record.
At the March hearing, the filmmaker’s attorney withdrew his request to unseal the documents but reinstated the request days later, asking the court to “lift this unnecessary veil of secrecy.”
The court said Monday that a hearing regarding the Gunson testimony has been set for April 26.
The decision marks the latest chapter in a complex legal battle that began when Polanski was arrested at a Beverly Hills hotel in 1977 on suspicion of having sex with a 13-year-old girl he had photographed for a magazine assignment. He later pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Laurence Rittenband sent the director to a Chino prison for a 90-day diagnostic study. Polanski was released after 42 days on the recommendation of the prison.
What happened next has been the subject of contention between Polanski, the court and the district attorney.
Polanski has argued that Rittenband promised that his stay in Chino would constitute the entirety of his time in custody. But he contends the judge, facing intense media scrutiny, reneged on the promise. Fearing additional prison time of indeterminate length, Polanski left the country.
The highly sensationalized case was one of the most-followed legal dramas of the era. Polanski was already a highly acclaimed filmmaker at the time, having directed movies such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown.”
The slaying of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a decade earlier by members of the Manson family only added to the public’s fascination.
A deal was almost reached in 1997 for Polanski to return to the United States and be sentenced to time served. But the director backed out at the last minute upon learning that the court proceedings would be televised.
In 2008, the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” reignited public interest in the case with new interviews alleging judicial misconduct on the part of Rittenband.
The following year, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland while on his way to a film festival in Zurich. After spending several months in prison and under house arrest, Polanski was freed by Swiss officials who declined the United States’ extradition request.
A similar request failed in Poland in 2015, with a judge citing alleged unethical behavior by Rittenband.
Braun, Polanski’s attorney, argued at the March hearing that the filmmaker has served more time than he was originally promised when counting the time spent in custody in Switzerland.
But prosecutors argued that Polanski’s fugitive status disqualifies him from seeking any resolution. Deputy Dist. Atty. Michele Hanisee called Polanski a celebrity who “wants special treatment.”
The new ruling echoes past court decisions in the case in which judges have invoked the fugitive disentitlement doctrine to bar Polanski from resolving the case from the safety of his home in Europe. Since fleeing the United States, Polanski, who holds dual French-Polish citizenship, has resided primarily in Paris.
In 2009, a California appeals court judge said that the lower court could sentence Polanski in absentia and urged an investigation into the allegations of judicial misconduct in the case. But Polanski’s lawyer contends that the recommendation was ignored by the lower court.
Samantha Geimer — the victim who was 13 years old when the crime took place — has in recent years voiced her support for the dismissal of the case against Polanski.
The L.A. County district attorney’s office declined to comment.
Polanski has continued to make movies in Europe. He won an Oscar in 2003 for directing the Holocaust drama “The Pianist,” but didn’t return to the United States to accept the award.
He is in post-production for his latest movie, “Based on a True Story,” which stars his wife, the French actress Emmanuelle Seigner.
5:45 p.m: This article was updated with comments from defense attorney Harland Braun.
This article was originally published at 3:50 p.m.
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