Lawyers talk next move in Polanski case

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 11:57 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — With Roman Polanski under house arrest in Switzerland, lawyers in his 32-year-old sex case are gathering in a Los Angeles court Wednesday to discuss future legal moves that could resolve the marathon prosecution.

Roman Polanski
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Roman Polanski

In this Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 file photo, Roman Polanski is seen in Oberhausen, western Germany.

Roberto Pfeil/The Associated Press, file photo

The hearing is described as a status conference before Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza, who has presided over earlier proceedings in the case. But now an appellate court has offered advice on bringing the matter to a long-sought conclusion. The film director pleaded guilty to one count of sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

A three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal refused to dismiss the case last month, but offered suggestions in a 70-page ruling about how the case could be resolved.

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.

The appeals court said there was probable judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in his case that should be investigated. But the court's strongest point was to urge that the case be concluded now, calling it "one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history."

Polanski's lawyer asked for a private conference in the judge's chambers, but a prosecutor prevailed in asking to make the session public. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said in a letter to the judge that media presence would prevent misconceptions of what might be said behind closed doors.

He cited a history of "in chambers" conferences in the case that became controversial.

Walgren said the presence of the media "will further ensure that the public is properly informed about what transpires in their criminal justice system."

Polanski, the famed director of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," was accused of plying Samantha Geimer, who was then 13, with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill, then raping her during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson's house in 1977.

Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy. He later pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse in a plea bargain. He was sent to prison for a diagnostic study. The judge, who had promised no further jail time, reneged and was planning to sentence him more harshly.

Espinoza said earlier this year there appeared to be "substantial misconduct," but that Polanski had to return to the United States to argue for the case to be tossed out.

Polanski has refused to return and is currently fighting extradition from Switzerland where he was arrested in September when he arrived for a film festival.

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