Polanski faces arrest to clear his name

Director has to return to US if he wants to win appeal against 1978 rape verdict

More than three decades after Roman Polanski admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl, a judge has ruled that there was “substantial misconduct” in his rape trial but said that an appeal could only be heard if he returned to the US.

Peter Espinoza, a judge at Los Angeles Superior Court, told the Oscar-winning director’s legal team that he believed the judge in the 1978 case had acted improperly by arranging a plea bargain only to later renege on it.

However, Polanski, who fled to France before being sentenced, cannot formally clear his name without flying back to the US, where there is still a warrant for his arrest, and agreeing to “submit himself to the jurisdiction” of the US justice system. In a Catch-22 situation, Polanski must return to Los Angeles for a hearing on 7 May for the appeal to go ahead, but that would also lead to his arrest and possible imprisonment.

“Having reviewed all the evidence in this case, there was substantial misconduct that occurred in the pendency,” said Judge Espinoza, whose verdict was informed by last year’s HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. “He just needs to submit to the jurisdiction of this court.”

The judge’s comments are the latest development in a soap opera which began in 1977, when Polanski was arrested for having sex with Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old model he had hired for a magazine photo shoot.

He was accused of plying the girl with the sedative Quaaludes and with several glasses of champagne before taking her into a hot tub and having sex with her at the actor Jack Nicholson’s house in the Hollywood hills.

Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts and faced life in prison but in a plea bargain that saw five counts dismissed, he admitted to unlawful sexual intercourse, hoping to serve just over 40 days in prison.

However in 1978, when it became clear that he in fact faced a far longer sentence, Polanski absconded to France, which has highly limited extradition agreements with the US.

Despite having never apologised for his actions, the director, now aged 75, remains strangely popular in Hollywood circles, where many seem bemused by all the fuss and believe he was the victim of a media vendetta.

He has continued to direct successful films from Europe and in 2002 he was awarded his first Oscar, for The Pianist, while in exile.

Ms Geimer, who is now aged 45 and the mother of four children, also came forward to call for the case to be dropped, saying in a legal submission in support of Polanski’s appeal that: “the time has come for this case to end.”

Whether Polanski will take the risk of returning to the US is another matter. In his original appeal, which was filed in December, he said he had no intention of ever setting foot in the country again.