LOS ANGELES — A judge refused to make an immediate ruling March 20 on a defense attorney’s request to find that Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski has already served more than enough time behind bars in connection with his 1977 guilty plea to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.
Prosecutors objected to what they called a defense request for an “advance preview” of how much time Polanski would face if he returns to the United States for sentencing.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon heard arguments for both sides and said he would issue a written order, but did not indicate when that might be.
Describing Polanski as “an 83-year-old man with a 40-year-old case,” defense attorney Harland Braun told the judge that the filmmaker “has already done his time” and wants to resolve the case with a finding that he has already completed his sentence and should be allowed to return to the United States without fear of being handed additional jail time.
However, Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee countered that what Braun is asking for is special treatment for his client.
“The people simply do not believe that it is in the best interests of justice to give a wealthy celebrity different treatment from any other fugitive from justice,” she said.
Gordon is the latest in a series of judges to hear motions in the case against Polanski. The director, writer and producer — who won an Oscar in 2002 for “The Pianist” — pleaded guilty in 1977, but fled to France in 1978 before his sentencing and has been living in Europe.
Southern California authorities have tried for years to bring Polanski back to America.
Braun filed court papers March 10 in which he wrote that Polanski will return to the United States for sentencing if a judge determines that he’s already served more than enough time behind bars in connection with his plea.
He asked that Gordon order the District Attorney’s Office to give some indication of how much time — if any — they want Polanski to serve if the director were to arrive in Los Angeles from his home in Paris. Braun also asked that the judge order that a warrant for Polanski’s arrest be lifted to avoid “some kind of untoward arrest.”
But Hanisee rejected the idea. The prosecution’s position “hasn’t changed in 40 years — he has to be here,” she told the court.
Polanski’s attorney wrote that Judge Laurence Rittenband — who died in 1993 — promised Polanski that he would be placed on probation if he received a favorable probation report, then broke the initial promise but promised the filmmaker that he would satisfy any custody requirement of his ultimate sentence if he went to prison for a diagnostic study.
“After Mr. Polanski served his time at the state prison diagnostic study, he was set to return to court for the sentence he had been promised. But Judge Rittenband announced to [Deputy District Attorney Roger] Gunson and defense lawyer Douglas Dalton that he again planned to break his promise and now would send Mr. Polanski to state prison for one to 50 years. But Judge Rittenband assured the attorneys that he could be trusted to keep another promise that he would secretly recall the state prison sentence if Mr. Polanski agreed to leave the country,” Braun wrote. “Because of Judge Rittenband’s broken judicial promises, and Mr. Polanski’s fear that Judge Rittenband would not honor his third promise, he left the United States.”
“Mr. Polanski asks this court to acknowledge that he was promised a specific custody portion of his sentence by Judge Rittenband and he has more than fulfilled the custody portion of his sentence,” Braun wrote. “With such assurance by this current court, Mr. Polanski will return to Los Angeles to be sentenced.”
In the prosecution’s filing, Hanisee responded, “The people oppose the defendant’s request for this court to represent what the defendant would be sentenced to if he returned. Once again, defendant is requesting an advance preview of the hearing he would get if he did come to court before deciding whether or not to return to this jurisdiction.”
The prosecutor wrote that the case has a “bizarre procedural history” over the last several decades that has “consisted of repeated requests by the defendant for secret hearings and special treatment.”
“The defendant is, once again, trying to dictate the terms of his return without risk to himself. His proposed order indicating that this court can reinstate the bench warrant after 180 days if he does not appear, is proof that his return is conditioned on getting the answers he wants. Defendant wants answers — but will only show up if he likes the answers. He forfeited his right to make requests of the court when he fled,” the deputy district attorney wrote.
In response to the prosecution’s latest filing, Braun wrote, “The District Attorney argues that Mr. Polanski forfeited his right to make requests when he fled. Does she not recall that he fled because he had been twice lied to by this court?”
Braun wrote that Polanski is asking the court to “keep its promise of 90 days or less” and accept the district attorney’s representation to a Swiss court that Polanski has credit for 335 days already served, or to sentence him in absentia — without Polanski appearing in court — to the 335 days he has already served.