In L.A., everything has a sequel. We are now one step closer to what many hope will be the last showing of the legal saga of director Roman Polanski, wanted since the 1970's for sentencing on a conviction for unlawful sex with a minor. In a hearing today in a L.A. courtroom, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that Polanski must face the court in person for sentencing and may not be granted the unusual step of being sentenced in absentia. "In defense of the integrity of the justice system, he needs to surrender," said Judge Espinoza.
Of course, the Swiss may decide not to extradite the 76 year-old, on the lam since 1978, and serving time under house arrest in his chalet in the Swiss Alps since December 4, 2009.
According to Polanski's court documents, the late Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband originally sentenced the director to a diagnostic study at a California prison where he served 42 days. According to Polanski, although the judge told his attorneys that would be the full sentence, he later indicated he was going to renege on the bargain and give him a harsher sentence at a scheduled hearing. Taking matters into his own hands, Polanski fled the country and has been a fugitive ever since.
Polanski's position is that Judge Rittenband's "promise" regarding the initial sentence is binding and he should be sentenced in absentia for time already served. Lawyers for the director have also asked the court for a full hearing with witnesses about allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
It remains to be seen whether the next step will come from a Swiss refusal to hand over their world-renowned prisoner, or whether the appeal that is sure to follow today's ruling will dictate the outcome. The courts of appeals in Los Angeles have already shown their displeasure in Polanski's manipulation of the court system, but have also acknowledged the allegations of severe misconduct of prosecutors and judge in the original proceedings.
Pause for a brief intermission.