An attorney for Roman Polanski urged a California appeals court panel Thursday to throw out the filmmaker's 1977 child sex case, citing what he called an "astonishing record of misconduct" by the district attorney's office and the judge who originally handled the case.
Chad S. Hummel argued that Judge Laurence J. Rittenband improperly discussed with a prosecutor how to punish Polanski and threatened to lock up the director for a longer period if his attorney challenged the judge's decision to return Polanski to prison.
"It sends chills up your spine what this judge was doing," Hummel told the three appellate court justices in downtown Los Angeles.
The director's lawyers took his case to the appeals court after a Los Angeles judge declined to address similar arguments earlier this year, ruling that Polanski would first need to return to the U.S.
The Academy Award-winning director is under house arrest at his chalet in Switzerland since his release on bail last week by Swiss authorities. Polanski, 76, was arrested in Zurich in September on an international fugitive warrant.
On Thursday, the justices suggested that Polanski might be 32 years too late in his request to dismiss the case and asked why he couldn't have asked his lawyer to raise the misconduct concerns at the time rather than flee the country.
A spokesman for the 2nd District Court of Appeal said the justices are not expected to decide whether the case should be dismissed and bring an abrupt end to the three-decades-old legal saga that has sharply divided public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead, the justices are weighing whether a trial judge can consider Polanski's request to dismiss the case and evaluate evidence of misconduct without the filmmaker's first returning to California.
The district attorney's office argued that a 19th century legal doctrine prevented the director from asking for help from California's courts unless he returned from his self-imposed exile.
"Do we want to send the message to not only this defendant but present defendants and all future defendants that flight is an option?" asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Phyllis C. Asayama.
But justices also questioned whether the rule is hard and fast and asked if there might be times when judicial misconduct is so egregious that it might justify a defendant's flight.
The charges date back to a 13-year-old girl's accusations that the acclaimed director, then 43, raped and sodomized her during a photo shoot. Polanski pleaded guilty to a single statutory rape count after the girl's parents urged prosecutors to settle the case to spare her the ordeal of a trial.
He spent 42 days at the state prison in Chino before his release but fled after his attorney told him that Rittenband planned to give him an additional 48 days behind bars at his formal sentencing.
An attorney for the victim spoke in support of dismissing the case against Polanski during Thursday's hearing.