April 23, 2010 / 1:24 AM / 9 years ago

Polanski loses bid to be sentenced in absentia

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski lost his latest bid on Thursday to be sentenced while outside the United States for having unlawful sex with a minor more than three decades ago.

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

Affirming the decision of a Los Angeles judge in January, a state appeals court ruled the fugitive filmmaker, 76, must return to California before he can be sentenced and bring his 33-year-long legal saga to a close.

The director of such film classics as “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” fled the United States for his native France in 1978 and is now fighting extradition from Switzerland.

The appellate panel found Polanski “failed to demonstrate” that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza lacked the discretion to refuse his request to remain abroad while the case against him was concluded.

A spokeswoman for Polanski’s lawyers, Sarah Ingram, told Reuters they had no comment on whether there would be further appeals. A California law professor, Laurie Levenson, who has followed the case closely, said Polanski’s attorneys could petition the state’s Supreme Court, but their chances “would be a real long shot.”

Denial of his appeal to be sentenced in absentia came shortly after the same court rejected a separate petition filed by the woman who was his victim at age 13 to have the case dismissed altogether.

Samantha Geimer, now in her 40s and a mother of three living quietly in Hawaii, has long sought to put the protracted court battle to rest, arguing that she has become victimized all over again by the efforts of prosecutors to bring Polanski to justice.


Geimer was an aspiring child model in 1977 when she went to a Hollywood house for a photo shoot with Polanski, who was subsequently charged with raping the girl after plying her with champagne and drugs.

Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor but fled the country before sentencing, fearing the judge would renege on a plea agreement limiting his punishment to 42 days he already had spent behind bars for psychiatric evaluation.

He has since lived as a fugitive in Europe, facing the prospect of arrest the moment he set foot back on U.S. soil while continuing his film career. In 2003, he won an Oscar for best director for the acclaimed Holocaust film “The Pianist.”

His latest film, “The Ghost Writer,” won him the best director prize at the Berlin film festival in February.

He was taken into custody in Switzerland in September on a U.S. warrant and remains there under house arrest. Swiss officials have said they are awaiting the outcome of U.S. legal proceedings before deciding whether to extradite him.

His lawyers have fought for years to have the case thrown out on grounds that Polanski was himself a victim of judicial misconduct, an issue prosecutors and judges have so far been unwilling to consider so long as he remains a fugitive.

Samantha Geimer, subject of the HBO Documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired", arrives at its premiere in New York May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Geimer has maintained that Polanski’s long exile has been punishment enough and he is no danger to society.

A civil suit brought by Geimer’s family years ago was eventually settled.

“Whatever harm was done to her 33 years ago by Polanski is now a memory,” Geimer’s lawyer, Lawrence Silver, wrote in his March 23 filing. He called the ongoing prosecution of Polanski “stale of fact and devoid of current purpose except to advance a political career.”

Editing by Todd Eastham

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