A state appellate court on Monday denied director Roman Polanski's appeal to dismiss the sex-with-a-minor-case that has clouded his career and character for more than 30 years, but it left the door open to the possibility that he could walk away from the chapter once and for all without even setting foot in California.
The Courts of Appeal 2nd District panel rejected Polanski's claims that the case should be dismissed because the late Judge Laurence J. Rittenband and prosecutor David Wells allegedly had improper communication during Polanski's original trial in 1977 — a charge that surfaced in Wells' own comments for a 2008 documentary about the case. But it stated that it was possible that judges could find that Polanski had already served his time in 1978.
“Polanski … still holds in his hands the potential means to hold the trial court to the commitment it allegedly made to him in 1977,” wrote Justice Laurie D. Zelon (PDF). “As we have expressed elsewhere in this opinion, if Polanski presents admissible evidence leading the trial court to conclude that Judge Rittenband committed to the diagnostic study as Polanski's entire punishment, it is difficult to imagine that the trial court would not honor that commitment today.”
The three-judge panel also suggested that if Polanski requests sentencing in absentia (he remains confined to his Swiss chalet as authorities in Los Angeles attempt to extradite him), the move “would afford him the evidentiary hearing that he so urgently seeks to support his allegations of misconduct,” thus providing another opening for him to get off.
The court also urged an investigation into the allegations of improper contact between the late judge and the Assistant District Attorney Wells. “We do not disregard the extremely serious allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct that have been brought forward,” writes Zelon, “but urge the parties to take steps to investigate and to respond to the claims.”
The director was arrested Sept. 26 after the District Attorney's office discovered he was headed to Switzerland to pick up an award. He's been confined to house arrest there since Dec. 4, as Los Angeles authorities attempt to extradite him in the 1977 case in which he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
Polanski fled to France after serving 42 days of “psychiatric evaluation” and realizing that, despite what he thought was a deal with the court, he might face more time. The victim in the case was 13 at the time and, as the Los Angeles Times noted recently, such a plea today would bring in a lot more time — a year or more — than what Polanski faced in the more lenient 1970s.