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Polanski's attorneys cite secret meetings in 1977, demand director's release

March 18, 2010 |  4:27 pm


Attorneys for Roman Polanski petitioned a state appellate court Thursday to free the film director, citing secret discussions between high-level prosecutors and the judge during the original 1977 case.

Polanski's lawyers described "communications" that involved Laurence J. Rittenband, the original judge in the case, Michael Montagna, a supervising deputy district attorney, and Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Trott, according to the 68-page court filing.

Trott and Montagna then blocked an effort by the prosecutor on the case to have Rittenband removed, the papers alleged.

Polanski's attorneys said the meetings were further proof the director was treated unfairly and should not be extradited to L.A. for sentencing in the case.

Rittenband's conduct was the subject of an HBO documentary, which presented evidence that the judge acted inappropriately. 

Polanski had agreed to plead guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor in exchange for the other charges being dismissed. He agreed that Rittenband would determine the sentence. Rittenband sent the filmmaker to the prison in Chino for a 90-day "diagnostic evaluation" that he said would "enable the Court to reach a fair and just decision."

Prison officials released Polanski after 42 days and advised the judge that testing indicated his sentence should not include additional prison time. Rittenband labeled the prison report "a whitewash" and said he planned to send Polanski back to prison for an additional 48 days if he voluntarily agreed to deportation. Informed of this by his attorney, Polanski left the country, seeking refuge in France.

Attorneys interviewed in the documentary said Rittenband improperly sent Polanski to Chino for the purpose of punishment rather than testing. The judge, they said, had agreed to set Polanski free after that stay, but reneged and decided to imprison the director again at his official sentencing in what amounted to a second round of punishment.

Polanski's attorneys said in the new court papers that the prosecutor on the case, Roger Gunson, wanted to have the judge disqualified from the case.

After Trott and Montagna met with Rittenband, they talked to Gunson, the papers say. They told him that Rittenband admitted to misconduct, but they told Gunson he could not file paperwork seeking the judge's removal from the Polanski case, according to the court documents.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office, declined to comment on the specific allegations because they were contained in sealed testimony. "We plan to respond in writing, but we don't think it's appropriate to be engaging in out-of-court comments on a matter that is still pending."

Polanski is now under house arrest in Switzerland, fighting efforts to have him extradited back to the U.S. for sentencing.

Last month, Polanski's legal battle to avoid returning to the U.S. got a boost when a Swiss official said extradition proceedings stemming from his three-decade-old child sex case were on indefinite hold.

The Swiss Justice Ministry's deputy director said authorities would not make any decision on Polanski's case until courts in California definitively ruled on whether the director could be sentenced without returning to the U.S. The issue is not pending before any California court, but Polanski's lawyers have said they will appeal a lower court judge's refusal earlier this year to sentence him in absentia.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Associated Press