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Roman Polanski asks California appeals court to dismiss child sex case

December 10, 2009 | 11:43 am

An attorney for Roman Polanski urged a California appeals court panel today 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 oversaw the case.

Chad S. Hummel argued that Judge Laurence J. Rittenband improperly discussed how to punish Polanski with a prosecutor not handling the matter, and threatened to lock up the director for a longer period if his attorney challenged his 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 need to return to the U.S. before any such decision could be made. 

The Academy Award-winning director has been under house arrest at his chalet in Switzerland for a week since his release on bail by Swiss authorities. He was arrested in Zurich in September on an international fugitive warrant.

During today’s hearing, the justices suggested that Polanski might be 32 years too late in his request to dismiss the case and that he could have had his lawyer raise such concerns at the time rather than flee the country.

The appeals court is not expected to decide whether the case should be dismissed, which would 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 first returning to California.

The district attorney’s office argued that a long-established legal doctrine means that the director cannot ask for any favors from California courts unless he returns from his self-imposed exile.

“Do we want to send the message to not only this defendant but all other defendants that flight is an option?” asked Deputy Dist. Atty. Phyllis C. Asayama.

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 count of statutory rape after the girl’s parents urged prosecutors to settle the case to spare her the ordeal of a trial.

He spent 42 days in prison 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 at today’s hearing in support of Polanski.

-- Jack Leonard at state appeals court in downtown L.A. 

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