Fugitive filmmaker Polanski loses bid to move case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski on Friday lost his bid to disqualify the Los Angeles County court system from considering his motion to dismiss a 30-year-old charge of unlawful sex with a minor.

Polish director Roman Polanski attends a news conference for the film "Chacun son Cinema" at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, May 20, 2007. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Lawyers for the Oscar-winning director behind such classics as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” filed court papers this week requesting the case be referred to the California Judicial Council for “selection of an impartial, out-of-county” judge.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled the defense motion “discloses no legal grounds for disqualification” and was therefore “ordered stricken.”

Polanski’s lawyers filed a separate motion in December seeking to dismiss the 30-year-old case altogether, citing “extraordinary new evidence” of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

A hearing on that motion is set for January 21, but Polanski’s lawyers have said he has no plans to return for the proceeding. The District Attorney’s Office filed its formal response on Tuesday opposing a dismissal.

Polanski, 75, an Academy Award winner in 2003 for directing the Holocaust drama “The Pianist,” fled the United States for France in 1978 as he was about to be sentenced for his guilty plea on charges of having unlawful sex with an underage girl.

He already had spent 42 days incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation and became convinced the judge intended to send him back to prison, contrary to the plea deal he had reached.

A citizen of his native France, Polanski cannot be extradited but faces arrest as a fugitive from justice the moment he sets foot on U.S. soil.

His bid to dismiss the matter stems from claims that the now-dead Los Angeles judge in the case was improperly coached by a deputy district attorney, David Wells, since retired, ahead of sentencing.

Those allegations gained public attention a year ago in the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” in which Wells spoke of his contact with the judge.

Polanski originally was indicted on six charges, including rape, for having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and drugs. The director insisted the sex was consensual but pleaded guilty to a single count of having sex with a minor, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Vilified in the U.S. media at the time, the director has earned a measure of sympathy in Hollywood for the 1969 tragedy of the murder of his then-pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of Charles Manson.

The victim in the sex case against him, Samantha Geimer, now in her 40s and a mother of three living in Hawaii, has said she believes Polanski’s long exile from Hollywood has been punishment enough. A civil suit brought by her family years ago eventually was settled.

In their filing on Tuesday, prosecutors cited lurid details from grand jury testimony in the case as evidence that Polanski forced himself on the girl. They also argued that his fugitive status precludes him from seeking dismissal of the case.