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Polanski loses bid to be sentenced in absentia

An L.A. County Superior Court judge scuttles the director's latest effort to end his three-decade-old child sex case.

January 22, 2010|By Harriet Ryan

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Friday denied Roman Polanski's request to be sentenced in absentia, scuttling the director's latest bid to end his three-decade-old child sex case.

Polanski hoped that such a sentencing would allow his lawyers to lay out evidence of judicial misconduct in his case and secure him a sentence of no further time behind bars.

Although a state appeals panel had suggested that Polanski be sentenced in absentia, as the director is facing extradition proceedings in Switzerland, Judge Peter Espinoza said he was not bound by the higher court's suggestion.

Espinoza said he would not sentence Polanski as long as he remained a fugitive. "I have made it clear he needs to surrender," Espinoza said.

Polanski, 76, is under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad.

Friday's decision guarantees that the legal saga -- which began in 1977 when a 13-year-old girl accused the director of sexual assault -- will continue for a 33rd year at least.

In his ruling, Espinoza cited the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, a 19th century legal principle that bars a fugitive from calling on the help of a court while he is flouting its authority. The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the judge's application of the principle in December, but urged sentencing in absentia or other resolution that would address the misconduct claims.

Polanski's defense quickly vowed to appeal. Attorney Chad Hummel told the judge he was frustrated that the court was more interested in the director's physical presence than investigating the misconduct claims. "What your honor is saying . . . is you're not doing anything unless Mr. Polanski first shows up. And for what? A show," he said.

Polanski contends that the original judge in the case, the late Laurence Rittenband, reneged on a promise to count the time the director spent in state prison before sentencing as his entire punishment. "Mr. Polanski left the country because a corrupt judge was going to sentence him a second time beyond the time he had already served," Hummel said.

Espinoza appeared to agree, saying of the 42 days Polanski spent in the state prison in Chino, "It's clear to me that was the intended sentence."

But, he added, since the director skipped town on the eve of the hearing, sentencing was never formally imposed and the case remained open.

In his ruling, Espinoza also denied a request by the victim, Samantha Geimer, to order prosecutors to stop extradition proceedings on the grounds that they had not consulted with her before seeking Polanski's return. The judge cited evidence that prosecutors had repeatedly contacted her.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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