Polanski lawyers appeal, demand sentencing in absence

Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:43pm EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lawyers for Roman Polanski filed an appeal on Thursday demanding the fugitive film director be sentenced in California for a decades-old sex crime even as he remains under house arrest in Switzerland.

They said Polanski was entitled under California law to be sentenced without returning in person to Los Angeles on a charge of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Polanski, 76, fled California in 1978 and was arrested in September 2009 in Switzerland. The Oscar-winning director of "The Pianist" is currently confined to his home in the ski resort of Gstaad fighting extradition to the United States.

A Los Angeles judge in January rejected Polanski's request to be sentenced in absentia, and insisted he appear in court.

Polanski's lawyers have been fighting to have the unlawful sex case dropped, alleging judicial misconduct in the original legal proceedings when the judge considered sentencing.

Until this newest legal salvo, it was believed that those allegations were first revealed in a 2008 film documentary about Polanski. But Polanski's attorneys said recent testimony from a key player in 1977 reveals prosecutors knew of the misconduct from the start and concealed it from the defense.

"Now to hear, through entirely new evidence, that high level deputy district attorneys in the summer of 1977 learned of misconduct by the judge in this case and never told the defense about it, that's inexcusable," Polanski's lawyer Douglas Dalton said in a statement.

Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977 but skipped bail and fled to France before being sentenced fearing that the judge would renege on an agreement limiting his punishment to the 42 days he had already spent behind bars for psychiatric evaluation.

His lawyers have said Polanski does not wish to return for sentencing because he does not trust the Los Angeles courts.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Beech)

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