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Bail for Roman Polanski met with surprise from some legal experts

November 25, 2009 |  1:49 pm

Roman Polanski is expected to spend the holidays under electronic monitoring at his posh Alpine chalet after a Swiss court agreed to a $4.5-million bail request by the famed director.

Legal experts said the bail is likely to lengthen what is expected to be a fierce battle over whether Polanski should be extradited to Los Angeles to face sentencing for unlawful intercourse with a 13-year-old girl more than three decades ago.

The decision also raises other questions, given that Polanski fled from the U.S. just before his sentencing in 1978. Swiss justice officials have repeatedly denied his bail requests, saying he’s a flight risk.

Under the terms of the bail, Polanski would be restricted to a chalet he owns in Gstaad, a ski resort in the foothills of Mt. Blanc. The town has long been known as a celebrity hangout, with David Niven, Richard Burton and Roger Moore among its frequent visitors in the past.

Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor who has represented people overseas facing charges in Los Angeles, said he was surprised the court would grant bail given Polanski's record of fleeing justice.

Others agreed.

“It is very rare to get bail in an extradition case and especially in cases where the person’s fled,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and Loyola law professor. “This is a little like giving bail to O.J. [Simpson] after the Bronco chase.”

Levenson said she believes the bail could prolong the extradition process, because Polanski would have less of an incentive to resolve the issue if he is out of jail.

“This will dramatically slow down the extradition process,” she said. "A Swiss chalet is a lot nicer than a jail here.”

Details about why the court decided to grant bail remain unclear. The Ministry of Justice had argued that Polanski should remain behind bars until extradition is resolved. Switzerland’s justice minister told the Swiss national TV that it was not going to appeal the court ruling.

-- Richard Winton

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