LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California appeals court on Monday denied a bid to dismiss a 32-year-old unlawful sex charge against director Roman Polanski but urged prosecutors to investigate claims of misconduct in the handling of the case.
Polanski remains under house arrest in Switzerland, facing extradition to the United States where he could be sentenced for pleading guilty to sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
The California Second District Court of Appeal denied an attempt by defense attorneys to have the charge dismissed outright or sent back to a lower court to hear evidence of judicial and prosecutorial wrongdoing.
But the three-judge panel said evidence and arguments presented by Polanski’s attorneys did raise “extremely serious allegations” and urged prosecutors to “take steps to investigate and to respond to the claims.”
Defense attorneys have alleged the original judge agreed to one sentence then improperly sought another, was unduly concerned about the public response and spoke to the media when he should not have. The defense also said the judge considered matters outside the court when deciding sentencing.
In its 70-page ruling, the court said there is “substantial probability” any court looking into the allegations would conclude “many, if not all, are true” and that if true, they “demonstrate malfeasance ... and unethical conduct.”
A spokesman for Polanski’s Los Angeles-based attorneys said they would have no comment.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office called the court’s decision “another step in the resolution of the Polanski sentencing.”
“We await a decision by the Swiss courts on his extradition to Los Angeles so all issues can be resolved,” the District Attorney’s office said in a statement.
Swiss officials have said they will make a decision on extradition early in 2010, at the soonest.
Los Angeles defense attorney Steve Cron, who is not associated with either party, said the court’s language means prosecutors should at least look at the allegations of judicial misconduct to see if they merit changes in Polanski’s status.
“I think the unwritten message is, ‘See if you guys can work this out, and if there is some way of resolving it,’” said Cron, an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law School.
Oscar winner Polanski, whose films include “Chinatown” and “The Pianist,” is now under house arrest in Switzerland where he was arrested on an extradition warrant in September.
In 1977, he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, But fled the United States because he believed the judge was going to sentence him to more than the time he had already served in a California detention center.
Since then, Polanski has made his home in France and avoided extradition to California for his sentencing.
Based in part on interviews in a 2008 film documentary about the director and the 1977 case, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” defense attorneys have sought to have the charge against him dropped.
Earlier this year, a California judge said he could not make a decision with the director absent from his courtroom. Polanski’s lawyers appealed to the Second District Court, resulting in Monday’s ruling.
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bill Trott