LOS ANGELES – Lawyers for Roman Polanski, a fugitive for 30 years in a notorious sex case involving a 13-year-old girl, filed a request Tuesday to dismiss the charge against him because of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.
The motion alleges that a documentary about the filmmaker released this year revealed "a pattern of misconduct and improper communications" between the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the judge in Polanski's case.
"This case serves as a classic example of how our justice system can be abused, and defendants' rights trampled, by an unholy alliance between courts and criminal prosecutors," said a statement from attorneys Chad Hummel and Brad Dalton. Dalton is the son of attorney Doug Dalton, who represented Polanski in the original case.
The Polish-born Polanski, 75, has been living in self-imposed exile in France since fleeing the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.
He was initially indicted on six felony counts and faced up to life in prison. Instead, he pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor and five other counts were dismissed.
Polanski, who had already been incarcerated for a psychological diagnosis for 42 days, skipped sentencing that would have sent him back to prison, and fled to France. The judge issued a warrant for his arrest that is still in effect.
The maximum sentence was 50 years, although prosecutors had said at the time that the typical sentence was 16 months to three years in prison.
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for District Attorney Steve Cooley, said her office had not been served with the motion and heard about it only through media reports. She said the office could not take a position until they see the legal papers.
"We're looking forward to seeing Mr. Polanski in Los Angeles to litigate it," she said.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 21 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Polanski, the director of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," has continued to direct films while in exile, including the 2002 Holocaust drama "The Pianist," for which he won the best-director Academy Award.
The woman with whom Polanski admitted having sex has said that she wants the charge dropped and that Polanski should be allowed to return to the United States.
The case was a sensation when it broke. Polanski, the widower of Manson family murder victim Sharon Tate, was arrested for having sex with the girl, whom he had hired as a model for a photo shoot. He was accused of giving her Quaaludes and champagne, taking her into a hot tub nude, and having sex with her.
The new effort to wipe out the charge comes after an HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," in which the man who prosecuted Polanski, retired Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson, said that if he had been in Polanski's position, he also would have fled the country.
The documentary also portrayed the late Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband as a publicity hound who held news conferences and engaged in extrajudicial meetings about the case.
In a legal brief, the attorneys quoted heavily from the documentary, citing statements by former Deputy District Attorney David Wells in which he acknowledged advising the judge on how to sentence the film director, even though he was not assigned to the case.
The lawyers said that Wells' recommendation to send Polanski away for a diagnostic study was illegal without Polanski's lawyers present. They said Wells also inflamed the judge by showing him photos depicting Polanski with girls at an Oktoberfest party in Germany while he was awaiting sentencing. They said the photos were misrepresented.
"As the result of DDA Wells' illegal ... communications, Mr. Polanski has been subject to a punishment that has spanned the course of over 30 years," the motion stated, noting he has been deprived of opportunities to work on films outside France.
The lawyers said the now-43-year-old victim, who never wanted Polanski to go to prison, should have the final say. They said the law requires the courts to consider a victim's wishes.
The woman's "wishes have remained unchanged, and this court has the discretion to finally conclude this case without any further harm" to the victim or her family, the motion stated.