Case Name: Polanski v. Superior Court, Opinion Date: 12/21/2009 , DAR #: 17703
A California Appeals court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine and dismissing without prejudice Mr. Polanski’s motion to dismiss his case. Director Roman Polanski entered a plea to statutory rape, went to prison for a 90-day diagnostic study, but then fled the country before sentencing because he believed the judge was going to send him to prison as a result of public criticism. Around the same time, defense counsel filed a motion to disqualify the judge. The judge denied bias, but agreed to transfer the case.
In 1997, the parties met with a different judge who agreed to sentence Polanski to no further jail time; but because the judge insisted the proceedings be televised, Polanski did not return for sentencing. In 2008, Polanski filed a motion to dismiss in the interests of justice, due to judicial misconduct. One year later, his attorney filed a motion to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County Superior Court. The trial court ruled Polanski must be present at any proceedings regarding his case (pursuant to Penal Code § 977), and he could not request affirmative relief from the court since he was a fugitive. Without deciding the merits, the court dismissed the motion without prejudice. Meanwhile, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and let it be known he would fight extradition. There, he was ultimately released on house arrest.
However, by denying the motion without prejudice, the trial court gave Polanski the possibility of further review, and yet it still protected the court’s dignity and recognized problems with enforceability. The court also noted it was disturbed by the allegations of misconduct discussed in detail in the opinion, many of which appeared to be substantiated and potentially very serious, and so it urged the parties to investigate those claims of misconduct.