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Photographer in Justin Bieber case challenges anti-paparazzi law

Paul Raef's attorneys say the law, which targets 'commercial' photographers who pursue celebrities, violates the 1st Amendment. Raef is accused of chasing Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway.

September 02, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles prosecutors have filed criminal charges against a paparazzo photographer for allegedly racing across a Los Angeles freeway in an effort to get photographs of Justin Bieber. The case marks the first use of a 2010 state law designed to prevent paparazzi from dangerously pursuing celebrities for photos. The City Attorney's office said Wednesday that 30-year-old Paul Raef faces four charges, including reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, following another vehicle too closely, and reckless driving.
Los Angeles prosecutors have filed criminal charges against a paparazzo… (Jordan Strauss / AP Photos )

A freelance photographer who allegedly chased singer Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway this summer and became the first person arrested and charged under the state's new anti-paparazzi law is now waging a constitutional challenge to the law.

Paul Raef, 30, faces four misdemeanor charges in connection with the July 6 incident: reckless driving, failing to obey a peace officer and two counts of following another vehicle too closely and reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain.

If convicted, he could face up to a year in county jail and fines totaling $3,500. A hearing is set for Sept. 24.

Raef's attorneys say the law, signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, violates the 1st Amendment. The law specifically targets "commercial" photographers who pursue celebrities.

"It punishes only the press for engaging in news gathering," said Dmitry Gorin, one of Raef's attorneys. "The law does not apply to a crazed fan following a celebrity, nor does it punish a reporter who is not paid for the photographs."

Paparazzi photographers have the same constitutional protection as any other member of the press, he said.

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's office, which supported the law and is prosecuting the case, declined to discuss the situation.

Constitutional legal experts say the city attorney faces a considerable legal challenge.

"A court is going to demand that the government show the paparazzi cause a special problem in this area that other drivers aren't causing," said Barry McDonald, a Pepperdine University constitutional law professor. "Even if they meet that standard, the court will also require they show there isn't another way to go about it. The government is going to have a heavy burden of justification, and I don't think the government is going to meet that justification."

Raef, 30, was not arrested during the alleged pursuit of Bieber. However, his license plate was reported to police, who investigated and presented the case to city prosecutors.

Bieber was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for driving in a "reckless manner," but a Toyota Rav4 — later determined to be Raef's — was among the vehicles that fled the scene, authorities said. About 30 minutes after Bieber was ticketed, the singer called 911 and said he was again being followed by a Toyota involved in the previous pursuit. CHP officers found a vehicle with the same license plate and identified Raef as the driver.

During his pursuit of Bieber, Raef was seen driving well in excess of 80 mph across all lanes and, at times, on the shoulder, prosecutors allege. They said other motorists had to brake and swerve to avoid colliding with the vehicles. As it pursued Bieber's vehicle, the Toyota forced its way into lanes of traffic despite not having room to merge safely, prosecutors said.

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