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Appeals court denies Polanski’s effort to be sentenced in absentia

The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejects arguments by the director’s lawyers that a judge should sentence him to time served in his 1977 statutory rape case. Polanski is under house arrest.

April 24, 2010|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

Roman Polanski's bid to end his three-decades-old child sex case without returning to Los Angeles suffered a major setback this week when a state appellate court denied his latest request to be sentenced while he remains under house arrest in Switzerland.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal at one time appeared sympathetic to the filmmaker's arguments, suggesting last year that the controversy could be resolved if Polanski asked to be sentenced in absentia.

But the same district court on Thursday rejected arguments by Polanski's lawyers that a judge should sentence the acclaimed director to time served for statutory rape before his extradition proceeding is resolved. The court did not hold a hearing or issue a written opinion on the request.

"The appellate court shut him down pretty strongly," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who has followed the case. "The clear message is that if anything is going to happen in this case, it's going to be with him coming back to the United States."

Unless Polanski's attorneys can persuade the California Supreme Court to intervene, the focus of the long-running legal saga will shift back to Switzerland, where authorities must decide whether to extradite him.

The Swiss Justice Ministry had said authorities would delay a decision until California courts ruled on whether Polanski could be sentenced without returning to the U.S.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled earlier this year that he would not sentence the director as long as he remained a fugitive.

Polanski has argued that his 1977 sex crimes case was tainted by judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

After the filmmaker pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl, Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband sent the director to state prison for 90 days of pre-sentencing diagnostic testing. The prosecutor and defense attorney at the time say the judge indicated in a private meeting with the lawyers that the diagnostic test would serve as Polanski's punishment.

But following Polanski's release from prison after 42 days, Rittenband signaled that he planned to send him back to prison to serve the remainder of the 90 days if he voluntarily agreed to deportation. Polanski fled, seeking refuge in France. Rittenband died in 1993.

The celebrity case has developed into a bitter war of legal briefs between Polanski's team of attorneys and the L.A. County district attorney's office.

Polanski's lawyers have accused prosecutors of making a false statement to Swiss authorities by failing to mention in a declaration that Rittenband intended to use the prison diagnostic test as Polanski's full term behind bars.

Prosecutors have denied that they provided false statements.

In legal papers, the district attorney's office accused Polanski's attorneys of making false accusations and seeking a sentencing in their client's absence so that the filmmaker could see if "he likes the result" before deciding whether to accept it.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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