LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski lost a bid on Tuesday to dismiss his 30-year-old conviction for having sex with a minor when a Los Angeles judge refused to consider the request as long as the filmmaker was still a fugitive.
But Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza said he would be willing to reconsider his decision if Polanski, who fled the United States for France in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with an underage girl, returned to a Los Angeles courtroom by May 7.
The 75-year-old director of such films as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown, has tried to have his guilty plea thrown out on claims that the now-dead judge in the case was improperly coached by a prosecutor.
Those accusations gained public attention in the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” in which the prosecutor, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney David Wells, spoke of his contact with the judge.
Prosecutors have long maintained that Polanski has no standing to reopen his case while he is a fugitive and Espinoza agreed. But the judge gave Polanski a small victory by suggesting in court that the filmmaker’s claims could have merit.
“It is hard to contest that some of the conduct portrayed in film on that documentary was misconduct,” Espinoza said.
Polanski was originally indicted on six charges, including rape, for having sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and drugs.
He 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.
Polanski spent 42 days incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation in 1978, but fled before sentencing because he became convinced the judge intended to send him back to prison, contrary to a plea agreement he had made with prosecutors.
A citizen of his native France, Polanski cannot be extradited but faces arrest if he sets foot back on U.S. soil.
Vilified in the U.S. media at the time, the director has earned a measure of sympathy in Hollywood and won an Academy Award for directing 2002’s Holocaust drama “The Pianist.”
His attorneys had sought to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County court system from hearing the matter, a request that was rejected earlier this month by a California appeals court.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte