Justin Bieber is the focus of a case that has cast the spotlight on California's anti-paparazzi laws.(Photo: Alexandre Meneghini, AP)
LOS ANGELES -- A judge dealt a blow Wednesday to a California law
meant to crack down on reckless driving by paparazzi by saying the
statute is overly broad and should not be used against the first
photographer charged under its provisions.
Superior Court Judge
Thomas Rubinson dismissed counts filed under the law against Paul Raef,
who was charged in July with being involved in a high-speed pursuit of
MORE: Cops pull Bieber over in L.A.
The 2010 law raised the penalty for those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain.
offense is punishable by six months in jail and a $2,500 fine but went
unused until Raef was involved in the freeway chase of Bieber that
topped 80 mph and prompted several 911 calls.
Raef still faces traditional reckless driving counts and has not yet entered a plea.
judge cited numerous problems with the paparazzi statute, saying it was
aimed at newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment, and
lawmakers should have simply increased the penalties for reckless
driving rather than targeting celebrity photographers.
said the law could be used against photographers rushing to shoot a
wedding or political rally, or even a private citizen such as himself on
the way to an event that might generate photos worth selling.
Rubinson's ruling only affects Raef's case, the law could be struck
down completely if prosecutors appeal his decision, said Brad Kaiserman,
an attorney for Raef.
Kaiserman argued the law was unconstitutional and meant to protect celebrities, not the public.
"This discrimination sets a dangerous precedent," he said.
Prosecutors countered that the law could be applied to people in other professions, not just the media.
"The focus is not the photo. The focus is on the driving," Assistant City Attorney Ann Rosenthal argued.
While the media is granted freedom under the First Amendment, its latitude to gather news is not unlimited, she said.
"This activity has been found to be particularly dangerous," she said of chases involving paparazzi.
also said the judge should look at factors specific to Raef's case, not
hypothetical scenarios. She declined comment after the hearing.
law was prompted by the experiences of Jennifer Aniston, who provided
details to a lawmaker on being unable to drive away after she was
surrounded by paparazzi on Pacific Coast Highway.