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LA judge rejects Polanski bid to dismiss sex case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles judge on Thursday formally rejected an attempt by fugitive film director Roman Polanski to have a 1978 sex case against him dismissed because of misconduct by prosecutors.

Polish-born film director Roman Polanski awaits a public talk in Potsdam February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza said he could not consider the case unless Polanski, who fled the United States for France after pleading guilty to rape, showed up in his court.

Lawyers for the Oscar-winning director made clear this week that Polanski would not return to the United States to contest his conviction in person because he would be immediately arrested. He cannot be extradited from France.

The lawyers have said they will appeal Espinoza’s ruling on constitutional grounds, alleging that misconduct by the original prosecutors and the judge had deprived Polanski of his right to a fair hearing.

Polanski had sought to have his 1978 guilty plea to having sex with a 13-year-old girl thrown out on the grounds that the judge at the time was improperly coached by a prosecutor.

Espinoza said in February that there was “substantial misconduct” in the original case against Polanski and gave him until May 7 to turn up in his court to pursue the matter. Polanski did not appear.

The director of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” fled to France in the 1970s because he was convinced the judge in the case intended to send him to prison despite a plea agreement with prosecutors.

He has never set foot on U.S. soil since, even when he was awarded a best director Oscar for the 2002 Holocaust movie “The Pianist.”

The judge in the original case has since died but the allegations of misconduct were given a public airing a year ago in an independent documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”

The teenager in the case, now a mother of three living in Hawaii, has said she believes Polanski’s long exile from Hollywood has been punishment enough.

Polanski was one of the most respected movie makers in Hollywood in the late 1960s and 70s and won sympathy when his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in their Los Angeles home in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by David Storey