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Name: Polanski v. Superior Court
Case #: B217290
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 12/21/2009

The trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine and dismissing without prejudice the motion to dismiss the action. 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 declined to return for sentencing. In 2008, Polanksi filed a motion to dismiss in the interests of justice (Pen. Code, § 1385), 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 (Pen. 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. This writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal followed. Meanwhile, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and let it be known he would fight extradition. The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that appellant lacked standing to bring a motion under section 1385. People v. Carmony (2004) 33 Cal.4th 367 holds that a defendant can invite the court to exercise discretion and the court must consider evidence offered in support of the application. The court also rejected the prosecution’s argument that Polanski’s arrest moots the issue since it could not be known if he would actually be extradited. However, there was no abuse of discretion in applying the disentitlement doctrine. The trial court properly balanced the purposes behind the doctrine and equitable concerns. 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 appellate court noted there still remain several options for Polanski, but he continues to try to get complete relief without facing any risk. On the other hand, the court noted it was disturbed by the allegations of misconduct discussed in detail in the opinion, many of which appeared to be substantiated, and so it urged the parties to investigate them.