January 7, 2009 / 12:29 AM / 9 years ago

Fugitive filmmaker Polanski seeks U.S. case moved

<p>Director Roman Polanski is pictured during a news conference to present his musical 'Tanz der Vampire' ('Dance of the Vampires') in Oberhausen, Germany in this September 29, 2008 file photo.Ina Fassbender/Files (GERMANY)</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski wants to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County court system from handling the sexual misconduct case that led him to flee the United States for France three decades ago.

Lawyers for the 75-year-old director filed court papers late Monday requesting that the matter be referred to the California Judicial Council for "selection of an impartial, out-of-county judicial officer."

The latest legal move comes a month after Polanski's lawyers filed a motion seeking to dismiss the case altogether, citing "extraordinary new evidence" of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

A hearing on the motion to drop the case is set for January 21, but Polanski's lawyers have said he has no plans to return for the proceeding. The District Attorney's Office filed its formal response Tuesday opposing a dismissal.

Polanski, an Academy Award winner in 2003 for directing the Holocaust drama "The Pianist," fled the United States in 1978 as he was about to be sentenced for his guilty plea on charges of having unlawful sex with an underage girl.

A citizen of his native France, Polanski cannot be extradited but faces arrest as a fugitive from justice the moment he sets foot back on U.S. soil.

Polanski's bid to dismiss the matter stems from claims that the now-dead Los Angeles County Superior Court judge in the case was improperly coached by a deputy district attorney, David Wells, since retired, ahead of sentencing.

FUGITIVE JUSTICE

Those allegations gained public attention a year ago in the documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," in which Wells spoke about his contact with the judge.

In Monday's filing, defense lawyers further asserted that the court demonstrated a prejudice against Polanski when its official spokesman told The Los Angeles Times in December that Polanski must attend this month's hearing in person in order for his dismissal motion to even be considered.

The 20-page motion said the Los Angeles County court system "should be disqualified from deciding the central issues of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct ... and the entire case should be referred to the Judicial Council for further proceedings and a determination free from even the appearance of bias and taint."

Polanski originally was indicted on six charges, including rape, for having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and drugs. The director insisted the sex was consensual but pleaded guilty to a single count of having sex with a minor, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Vilified in the U.S. media at the time, the director of such film classics as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" has earned a measure of sympathy in Hollywood for the 1969 tragedy of the murder of his then-pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, by followers of Charles Manson.

The victim in the sex case against him, Samantha Geimer, now in her 40s and a mother of three living in Hawaii, has said she believes Polanski's long exile from Hollywood has been punishment enough and that he is no danger to society.

A civil suit brought by her family years ago eventually was settled. In 1997 a series of closed meetings between the director's lawyer, prosecutors and a judge sparked speculation that a deal was in the works, but nothing ever came of it.

In their filing Tuesday, prosecutors cited lurid details from grand jury testimony in the case as evidence that Polanski forced himself on the girl. They also argued that his fugitive status precludes him from seeking dismissal of the case.

Editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman

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