Roman Polanski hearing opens in L.A.

Presiding justice sees misconduct by judge in '70s

A hearing to determine the fate of Roman Polanski's long-delayed sex case began Thursday with three appeals court justices repeatedly interrupting and questioning an attorney for the fugitive director.

Attorney Chad Hummel said during his opening statement that the California Second District Court of Appeal panel has the authority to dismiss the case in the interest of justice.

The justices, however, quizzed Hummel about what facts were before a lower court judge when Polanski argued for the dismissal of the case earlier this year.

Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss also said there appeared to be substantial misconduct by the judge who handled Polanski's case in the late 1970s.

But Perluss said many of the misconduct issues raised in recent months were known to Polanski's attorneys at the he fled the country more than 30 years ago and should have been raised then.

Polanski has been a wanted man since he fled to France on the eve of sentencing in 1978 for having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.

He was accused of plying the teen with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill then raping her during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson's house in 1977. Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy. He later pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse.

The appeals court in Los Angeles is being asked to decide if it should order a Superior Court judge to consider dismissing the case without Polanski's attendance in court.

Prosecutors argue the case should proceed since Polanski was arrested in September in Switzerland.

Polanski is now confined to house arrest in his Swiss chalet in the resort town of Gstaad, and his fate is in the hands of judges in two countries.

The court also will hear from prosecutors and an attorney for Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer.

The appeal began last summer when Polanski's lawyers pressed to dismiss the case in California that has haunted the 76-year-old director since he fled to France.

Any decision by a three-judge panel will not immediately affect Polanski's current predicament of fighting extradition from Switzerland to the U.S. Still, a victory in California would put the issue before a judge who already found substantial misconduct in the case.

Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza made the finding after watching an HBO documentary on the case. But he declined to act because of a well-established doctrine that says fugitives are not entitled to a court hearing if they don't show up.

Polanski sought dismissal of the case in July after the documentary detailed alleged back-room dealings between the judge and a prosecutor who said he meddled in the case. The judge is deceased and the former prosecutor recanted his statements after Polanski's arrest.