Polanski v. Superior Court, No. B217290.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtZelon
Citation180 Cal.App.4th 507,102 Cal. Rptr. 3d 696
PartiesROMAN RAYMOND POLANSKI, Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent; THE PEOPLE et al., Real Parties in Interest.
Decision Date21 December 2009
Docket NumberNo. B217290.
180 Cal.App.4th 507
102 Cal. Rptr. 3d 696
ROMAN RAYMOND POLANSKI, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Respondent;
THE PEOPLE et al., Real Parties in Interest.
No. B217290.
Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Seven.
December 21, 2009.

[180 Cal.App.4th 511]

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Chad S. Hummel, Diana M. Kwok, Benjamin G. Shatz; Douglas Dalton; and Bart P. Dalton for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Steve Cooley, District Attorney, Irene T. Wakabayashi, Phyllis C. Asayama and David Walgren, Deputy District Attorneys, for Real Party in Interest The People.

Silver & Field and Lawrence Silver for Real Party in Interest Samantha Geimer.

OPINION

ZELON, J.


In another chapter of what surely must be one of the longest running sagas in California criminal justice history, Roman Polanski, a fugitive since 1978, asked the trial court to exercise its discretionary authority to dismiss the criminal prosecution against him that has been pending since 1977. The trial court declined to consider Polanski's request until Polanski submitted to the court's jurisdiction by returning to the United States and appearing in court. Polanski asks this court to compel the trial court to

180 Cal.App.4th 512

dismiss the action or, at least, to conduct an evidentiary hearing on Polanski's request. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine and refusing to consider dismissing the action. In so doing, we do not disregard the extremely serious allegations of judicial and prosecutorial1 misconduct that have been brought forward, but urge the parties to take steps to investigate and to respond to the claims.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I. Information Established by the Documentary Record, 1977-1978

The limited documentary record of the proceedings in this case furnishes little insight into the serious issues presented by this matter. Roman Polanski was indicted by a grand jury in March 1977 on six counts: furnishing a controlled substance to a minor (Health & Saf. Code, § 11380, subd. (a)); a lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14 (Pen. Code,2 § 2883); unlawful sexual intercourse (§ 261.54); rape by use of drugs (§ 261, subd. (3)5); perversion6 (§ 288a, subds. (a), (c)); and sodomy (§ 286, subds. (a), (c)7). Polanski initially pleaded not guilty.

The district attorney's office agreed to a plea bargain with Polanski at the request of the family of the victim, Samantha Geimer,8 who was 13 years old at the time of the offense. In light of Geimer's age and fears about the trauma that an extremely high profile trial would cause for her, Geimer's family, through counsel, advocated strongly for a plea bargain to protect her from further harm. On August 8, 1977, Polanski changed his plea from not guilty

180 Cal.App.4th 513

to guilty on count 3, unlawful sexual intercourse. In the course of his plea, Polanski acknowledged that the trial court would determine whether he would receive a felony or misdemeanor sentence; that his punishment could range from probation, to up to one year in county jail, to 20 years in state prison; and that the judge would not determine Polanski's sentence until he had received a report from the probation department and heard the arguments of counsel.

The trial court then instituted mandatory proceedings to determine whether Polanski was a mentally disordered sex offender. The court appointed two psychiatrists to evaluate Polanski and set a further hearing for the mentally disordered sex offender hearing. The hearing was scheduled for September 19, 1977.

On September 19, 1977, the trial court conducted a hearing and determined that Polanski was not a mentally disordered sex offender. The court acknowledged that it had read and considered the probation report in the case and asked whether there was any legal cause why judgment should not be pronounced. Polanski's trial counsel, Douglas Dalton, answered that there was no legal cause why judgment should not be pronounced. The court invited Dalton to argue on sentencing, and Dalton argued that Polanski should be given probation as recommended by the probation department. Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson argued that Polanski should receive time in custody.9

After identifying various considerations that the court would incorporate into its sentencing decision, the court stated, "This Court, i[n] sentencing the defendant, will do so upon the basis of fitting the punishment to the crime, yet at the same time weighing all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, including the defendant's background and lack of criminal record, and all factors in mitigation and aggravation of the offense. [¶] It is the judgment of this Court that the defendant be committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections at its prison facility in Chino, California, where he will be confined for a period of 90 days and undergo a diagnostic evaluation, pursuant to the provisions of [section] 1203.03 of the Penal Code. [¶] The purpose of the Court in ordering the in-depth diagnostic study is better to enable the Court to reach a fair and just decision as to the sentence to be finally or eventually imposed. [¶] The defendant will be returned here 90 days hence for further proceedings." Neither Polanski nor the People objected to the diagnostic study order. The court stayed the execution of the diagnostic study for 90 days to permit Polanski to complete a film he was directing, stating that the stay would "certainly" not extend past 90 days, "if it could be

180 Cal.App.4th 514

avoided." The diagnostic study, dated January 25, 1978, contained recommendations that Polanski be placed on probation.

On February 1, 1978, Polanski failed to appear in court for a scheduled sentencing hearing and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Dalton filed a verified statement of disqualification for cause of the trial judge, Judge Laurence Rittenband, on February 14, 1978. On February 21, 1978, Judge Rittenband filed a verified answer to the disqualification statement in which he denied bias but consented to the transfer of the matter.

II. Allegations of Judicial Misconduct Known to or Knowable by Polanski at the Time of His Flight

Here we diverge from the indisputable facts of what has gone before in this matter to allegations presented by Polanski in documents filed with the courts in 1978, 2008 and 2009 concerning events that occurred prior to Polanski's flight from the United States immediately before the February 1, 1978 sentencing hearing. These allegations—and they must be termed "allegations" because no court has ever held an evidentiary hearing and made factual findings concerning their veracity—are in many cases supported by considerable evidence, including declarations from both Prosecutor Gunson and Defense Counsel Dalton. Some of these allegations were disputed by Judge Rittenband in 1978 in his response to the disqualification papers Dalton filed, and this account of the preflight events is included below as well. To the extent that these allegations are true—and from the documentary evidence filed with this court, it appears to this court that there is a substantial probability that a court conducting an evidentiary hearing would conclude that many, if not all, are true—they demonstrate malfeasance, improper contact with the media concerning a pending case, and unethical conduct.

A. Allegations of Judicial Misconduct at a Preorder In-chambers Meeting with Counsel, September 1977

Under penalty of perjury, Dalton and Gunson have both described an unreported in-chambers meeting among the trial judge, Dalton, Gunson, and probation officer Irwin Gold prior to the trial court's order referring Polanski for the diagnostic study. In a 1978 verified answer to the disqualification papers, the trial judge responded to some of the then aired allegations of judicial misconduct.

180 Cal.App.4th 515

Douglas Dalton, 1978:10 "On September 16, 1977, prior to ordering this very diagnostic study, Judge Rittenband stated to Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, Probation Officer Irwin Gold and defense counsel Douglas Dalton in his chambers that the diagnostic study at Chino would constitute the defendant Polanski's punishment and that there would be no further incarceration. (In fact, at the time of the September 16, 1977, meeting, he stated he expected a favorable report from Chino.) [¶] Deputy District Attorney Gunson and Probation Officer Gold had stated in this September 16, 1977, meeting that the use of a [section] 1203.03 study as punishment was an improper utilization of that provision. Nevertheless, the Judge stated that he would use this method of incarceration rather than the county jail because Polanski would be safer at Chino than in the county jail. Judge Rittenband stated that 60 days at Chino would be sufficient time in custody to constitute the defendant's punishment." Dalton further stated that "Judge Rittenband told defense counsel Dalton that at the hearing he should argue for probation, that Deputy District Attorney Gunson should argue for incarceration, and that then the Judge would order the diagnostic study pursuant to Section 1203.03 of the Penal Code."

Douglas Dalton, 2008: "Several days before September 19, 197[7], the date scheduled for the Probation Hearing and Sentencing, Judge La[u]rence Rittenband told Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, Deputy Probation Officer Irwin Gold, and me that he had already decided to send Mr. Polanski to prison for a `diagnostic study' under section 1203.03 of the Penal Code as his complete punishment under the plea if the prison returned a favorable report and the press were not told of the agreement. [¶] Judge Rittenband neither sought nor listened to any opinions or recommendation of the parties present. Not only had the minor's family urged that Mr. Polanski not serve any...

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44 practice notes
  • State v. Wences, NO. 93605-6
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 30, 2017
    ...319, 321, 591 A.2d 1329 (1991) ; Reid v. Commonwealth, 57 Va. App. 42, 50-52, 698 S.E.2d 269 (2010) ; Polanski v. Superior Court, 180 Cal. App. 4th 507, 531-33, 102 Cal.Rptr.3d 696 (2009) ; James L. Buchwalter, Annotation, Effect of Escape by, or Fugitive Status of State Criminal Defendant ......
  • Ctr. For Biological Diversity v. County of San Bernardino, No. D056972.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 18, 2010
    ...or patently absurd *616 manner that resulted in a manifest miscarriage of justice." [Citation.]' " ( Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537, 102 Cal.Rptr.3d 696.) " 'The abuse of discretion standard is "deferential," but it "is not empty." [Citation.] " [I]t asks in subs......
  • People v. Chacon, F069786
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 21, 2016
    ...court's ' "decision will not be reversed merely because reasonable people might disagree." ' " (Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537.) " ' "Where a witness has disclosed sufficient knowledge of the subject to entitle his opinion to go to the jury, the question of the d......
  • People v. Chacon, F069786
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 21, 2016
    ...court's ' "decision will not be reversed merely because reasonable people might disagree." ' " (Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537.) " ' "Where a witness has disclosed sufficient knowledge of the subject to entitle his opinion to go to the jury, the question of the d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • State v. Wences, NO. 93605-6
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 30, 2017
    ...319, 321, 591 A.2d 1329 (1991) ; Reid v. Commonwealth, 57 Va. App. 42, 50-52, 698 S.E.2d 269 (2010) ; Polanski v. Superior Court, 180 Cal. App. 4th 507, 531-33, 102 Cal.Rptr.3d 696 (2009) ; James L. Buchwalter, Annotation, Effect of Escape by, or Fugitive Status of State Criminal Defendant ......
  • Ctr. For Biological Diversity v. County of San Bernardino, No. D056972.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 18, 2010
    ...or patently absurd *616 manner that resulted in a manifest miscarriage of justice." [Citation.]' " ( Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537, 102 Cal.Rptr.3d 696.) " 'The abuse of discretion standard is "deferential," but it "is not empty." [Citation.] " [I]t asks in subs......
  • People v. Chacon, F069786
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 21, 2016
    ...court's ' "decision will not be reversed merely because reasonable people might disagree." ' " (Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537.) " ' "Where a witness has disclosed sufficient knowledge of the subject to entitle his opinion to go to the jury, the question of the d......
  • People v. Chacon, F069786
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 21, 2016
    ...court's ' "decision will not be reversed merely because reasonable people might disagree." ' " (Polanski v. Superior Court (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 507, 537.) " ' "Where a witness has disclosed sufficient knowledge of the subject to entitle his opinion to go to the jury, the question of the d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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