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Director Roman Polanski

Legal Setback for Roman Polanski’s Dismissal Bid

January 11, 2009 01:48 PM
by Isabel Cowles
A Los Angeles County court has refused Roman Polanski’s request to have a different court hear his request to dismiss a 30-year-old charge that he had sex with a minor.

Judge Refuses Polanski Request to Move Hearing

Famed film director Roman Polanski, a fugitive, wanted the California Judicial Council to select a judge from outside Los Angeles County to hear his request to dismiss the case against him for having sex with a 13 year old in 1977, Reuters reported.

Polanski, director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist,” pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977. Believing that he would be imprisoned, the filmmaker fled to Europe on the eve of his sentencing, and has lived there ever since.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Polanski’s lawyers have asked the Los Angeles County Superior Court to dismiss the case, citing “repeated, unlawful and unethical misconduct” by a prosecutor and the trial judge.

Late last week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza denied the Judicial Council request, saying Polanski’s lawyers had presented “no legal grounds” to disqualify a Los Angeles County judge from hearing the case, Reuters reported. 

The dismissal motion will be heard at a Jan. 21 hearing, and Polanski doesn’t plan to return for it, Reuters said.

Developments in the case stem from the recent release of an HBO documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which alleges corruption on the part of the judge and a deputy district attorney.

Polanski’s lawyers claim that “The film ‘contains indisputable evidence of an ongoing scheme of continuous and pervasive judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in this case.’”

The director’s decision to flee the United States complicates his case. The day after he left, a U.S. judge issued a warrant for his arrest, which is still in effect. The warrant has made it impossible for Polanski to return to the United States, as he would be arrested upon entering the country.

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney, told the Associated Press that the office is “looking forward to seeing Mr. Polanski in Los Angeles to litigate [the case].”

Polanski’s legal team argued in court papers that the judge could choose to dismiss charges without seeing Polanski in person. “Shouldn’t the court decide based on the papers whether Mr. Polanski needs to be present for this request or not[?]” asked one of his lawyers.

Key Player: Roman Polanski

Polanski’s life and career have been marked by a series of ups and downs: his mother died in Auschwitz while Polanski escaped a Polish ghetto to become a successful European filmmaker.

In 1968 he made the successful horror film “Rosemary’s Baby,” just before a real-life nightmare changed the course of his life. Polanski’s heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson.

In 1974 Polanski made “Chinatown,” another blockbuster. But in 1977, he was producing a series of photos of adolescent girls when Polanski made the “mistake” of drugging and seducing a 13-year-old model in the home of friend Jack Nicholson.  

Nicholson and his girlfriend Anjelica Houston testified against Polanski during the trial. After pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse, Polanski underwent six weeks of psychiatric evaluation at a California state prison, and left the United States upon his discharge.

In a review of the book, “The Pocket Essential Roman Polanski” by Daniel Bird, examines some of the themes that characterize Polanski’s work: “It is arguable that the violence, evil and sense of dislocation prevalent in the films of Roman Polanski is directly derived from the dramatic, even horrendous details of his life.”

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