Sorry, Polanski, LA Judges Still in the Mix

LOS ANGELES -- Roman Polanski's lawyers lost a bid Friday to have all Los Angeles Superior Court judges disqualified from the case against the fugitive film director, who fled to his native France after being convicted in the late 1970s of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

In his written order, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza wrote that the defense's request "discloses no legal grounds for disqualification" and is "ordered stricken."

In court documents filed Monday, defense attorneys Chad S. Hummel and Bart Dalton had asked for the matter to be referred to the California Judicial Council for "selection of an impartial, out-of-county judicial officer."

Polanski's lawyers contended in their 20-page request that "it is quite obvious that a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court cannot impartially hear these issues" of alleged judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

In his order, Espinoza countered, "Rarely is disqualification of the entire court required, as the court is comprised of almost 600 judicial officers, presiding in 12 districts involving more than 50 courthouses spread out over the 4,000 square miles of the county of Los Angeles."

"Only in an extremely rare instance could it be possible to find that no judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court could be found to preside at the matter," the judge wrote.

Espinoza noted in the order that the issue is "not an appealable order" and may be reviewed only if a writ of mandate is obtained from the state court of appeal.

Meanwhile, a Jan. 21 hearing remains set before Espinoza on the defense's Dec. 2 request for the court to dismiss the case against Polanski.

The prosecution filed court papers Tuesday objecting to that request. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren wrote in his response that Polanski has "voluntarily remained a fugitive from justice" since 1978 and that he is "not entitled to have the court entertain his motion" until he returns to court.                 

In the defense's filing last month, attorneys alleged that now-retired Deputy District Attorney David Wells -- who was not assigned to the case when Polanski entered his guilty plea to unlawful sexual intercourse -- engaged in "repeated unethical and unlawful" communications with now-deceased Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Rittenband.

The filing also contends that court officials tried to conceal Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler's alleged desire in 1997 for sentencing proceedings in the case to be televised, as Polanski's former attorney had said in the recent HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired."

The court issued a statement last June, saying that the demand for a televised hearing was a "complete fabrication, entirely without any basis in fact, and completely unsupported by the court record."

In his order, Espinoza noted that there is "no specific argument" that he -- rather than Fidler -- has "personal knowledge" about disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.

The judge noted that he -- as supervising judge of the court's criminal division -- is sometimes required to hear matters involving cases pending before other judges which can involve those judges' actions and rulings.

Espinoza also rejected the defense's claim that "the court itself publicly pronounced (through its Public Information Office) that Mr. Polanski must personally appear in order for the request (for dismissal) to be considered."

In a two-page document accompanying his seven-page order, the judge wrote that he has "not yet decided or prejudged any of the issues presented by counsel for defendant's motion pending before me."

"I know of no facts or circumstances which would require my disqualification or recusal in this case," Espinoza added in the response.

Polanski fled to France in 1978 and has not returned to the United States since then.

He won an Oscar for directing "The Pianist," and was nominated for directing "Tess" and "Chinatown," and also for writing the adapted screenplay for "Rosemary's Baby."

The director was out of the country when his first wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson family in 1969.

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