Polanski asks LA judge to sentence him in absentia

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fugitive film director Roman Polanski asked a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday to sentence him in his absence on a 1977 charge of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Judge Peter Espinoza set a January 22 date for a full hearing on the request, made by Polanski in a notarized document signed December 26 in Switzerland and submitted by the Oscar-winning director’s Los Angeles-based lawyer, Chad Hummel.

But prosecutors, who have long sought to bring Polanski back to Los Angeles, said they would oppose any bid to sentence him until he turns up physically in court.

Polanski, 76, who won an Oscar in 2002 for “The Pianist”, is under house arrest at his villa in the ski resort of Gstaad, Switzerland, fighting extradition to the United States. He was arrested in Switzerland in September on a U.S. warrant.

He fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. Polanski has said he feared the judge in the case, who has since died, was going to renege on an agreement to sentence him to the 42 days he had already served behind bars.

The dual Polish-French national has spent most of the past 30 years living and working in France, which has no extradition treaty with the United States covering the crime.

Wednesday’s hearing followed a suggestion by a California appeals court last month that sentencing Polanski in absentia could be one way to resolve the decades-long battle to bring him to justice.

But prosecutor David Walgren said Polanski should come back to California and not continue to fight the case “from the comfort of his Swiss chalet in the Alps.”

Swiss authorities have said they will make a decision on extradition in early 2010.

A California appeals court in December denied Polanski’s bid to have the unlawful sex case dismissed due to alleged judicial misconduct. But the appellate panel said the misconduct allegations were “extremely serious” and should be investigated.

Hummel also asked Espinoza on Wednesday to hold a hearing on the judicial misconduct allegations.

The judge did not make a ruling on either request but indicated he was inclined to wait for the Swiss to make the next move. He also suggested another way to resolve the case, saying; “Mr Polanski could simply say, ‘I’ll come back’.”

Under current California law, Polanski faces a maximum two years behind bars on his guilty plea but his lawyers are expected to argue that the original plea deal should be respected and that he should serve no additional time.

Polanski married his third wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner in 1989 and has two children. His other movies include “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Tess” and “Chinatown”.

Writing by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Walsh