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Los Angeles judge tosses 2 counts of paparazzi law: 'overly broad'

November 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson dismissed two counts of anti-paparazzi charges filed against a photographer Wednesday.

Paul Raef, a professional photographer of celebrities, was charged under a 2010 paparazzi law following an incident involving pop singer Justin Bieber in July. Raef is the first person to be charged under the law.

Photographers had been following Bieber on the 101 Freeway on July 6. Bieber led photographers on a pursuit reaching speeds in excess of 80 mph through the San Fernando Valley. Several motorists called police about the pursuit. Bieber was pulled over by police as a result.

Raef, one of the pursuing photographers, was charged with two counts under the 2010 anti-paparazzi law in addition to counts of reckless driving.

Then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill on Oct. 12, 2009. Photographers found breaking traffic laws or interfering with the operation of a celebrity's car in pursuit of commercial gain can be fined up to $5,000 or sentenced to a year in jail. The law went into effect in 2010.

Raef's attorneys argued the paparazzi law is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment rights of journalists to gather information. They argued it was aimed at celebrity photographers, not, as was stated, as a means to protect the public.

Judge Rubinson dismissed both counts against Raef Wednesday, saying the city should have increased penalties for reckless driving instead of targeting photographers. Rubinson said there were multiple problems with the statute.

While the media is granted freedom under the First Amendment, its latitude to gather news is not unlimited, argued Assistant City Attorney Ann Rosenthal. Rosenthal said the law could apply to people in other professions, not just the media.

On July 6, L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine happened to see Bieber driving during the alleged paparazzi pursuit. Bieber was driving a chrome-plated Fisker Karma on the southbound 101 Freeway near Coldwater Canyon around 10:30 a.m. Zine said Bieber appeared to be going about 100 mph.

"It was like a rocket ship coming by, I'm not exaggerating when I say that," said Zine. "When it passed me, it had to be going close to 100 mph. Every time when there was a little space, it would make a lane change, then there were all these cars following.

"If I was still a motor officer, a motor supervisor, I would have arrested him for reckless driving because that was willful and wanton disregard for everyone," Zine said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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