Roman Polanski sent a letter from house arrest in Switzerland asking a Los Angeles judge to sentence him in a sex case without making him return to the U.S., but a ruling was postponed Wednesday.
The notarized letter signed by Polanski on Dec. 26 in Gstaad was filed by his lawyer. It said Polanski understood he had the right to be present at all legal proceedings, but “I request that judgment be pronounced against me in my absence.”
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren objected to Polanski’s request and demanded he “show his face” in court before he was sentenced.
“The people are adamant that a fugitive not dictate the court’s processes,” Walgren told Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza.
The “Chinatown” director fled the U.S. in 1978 on the eve of sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
Espinoza accepted the letter but said he wanted to see legal briefs that state why sentencing Polanski in absentia was appropriate.
“It seems to me there is a fairly big question about what his possible sentence could be,” Espinoza said, setting a Jan. 22 hearing on the issue.
Polanski, 76, is fighting extradition in Switzerland, a nation that will not extradite someone who is not required to serve at least six months in prison.
Prosecutors said Polanski is subject to a sentence of two years. The defense countered that he already served a sentence handed down by the original judge in the case plus five months spent in a Swiss jail and more recently under house arrest.
Polanski was accused of plying Samantha Geimer with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill then raping her during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house in 1977.
Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy. He later pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.
He was sent to prison for a diagnostic study. The judge, who had promised no further jail time, reneged and was planning to sentence him more harshly.
Judge Espinoza said earlier this year there appeared to be substantial judicial misconduct, but Polanski had to return to this country to argue for the case to be tossed out.
Polanski’s attorney, Chad Hummel, quoted extensively Wednesday from a ruling last month by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal that held out a number of options, including sentencing without Polanski present.
Hummel noted the court had recognized the urgency of a hearing to get the matter resolved and suggested an immediate investigation into alleged misconduct by a judge and prosecutor in the 1977 case.
Espinoza said Hummel was quoting selectively from the opinion.
The judge did not say if he would hold an evidentiary hearing on the allegations of misconduct.
The appellate panel also said it believed the trial court could issue a sentence that does not require any further incarceration of Polanski.
Wednesday’s hearing also raised the issue of a mystery witness who must be deposed because the judge said the person “may become unavailable.”
Such language is often used about someone who is dying or planning to leave the country. He ordered Hummel and Walgren to arrange for a deposition of the person.
Polanski’s lawyer had asked for a private conference in the judge’s chambers, but a prosecutor prevailed in seeking to make Wednesday’s proceedings public. Walgren said media presence would prevent misconceptions of what might be said behind closed doors.
He cited a history of in-chambers conferences in the case that became controversial.