Prosecutors appeal anti-paparazzi charge dismissal
LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors Wednesday appealed the dismissal of anti-paparazzi driving charges against a photographer accused of recklessly chasing Justin Bieber on a Los Angeles freeway earlier this year.
The appeal argues that Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson erred last month when he dismissed two counts filed under California’s 2010 anti-paparazzi law against Paul Raef, a freelance photographer. The judge dismissed the charges on grounds that the 2010 law used to charge him was overly broad and violates the First Amendment.
The judge’s ruling could set “a dangerous precedent” that newsgatherers can drive recklessly without facing stiffer penalties, the prosecutors’ filing states.
The law raised the penalty for those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain, but Rubinson said that could be applied to wedding photographers and many other professions.
The 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’s attorneys, David S. Kestenbaum and Brad Kaiserman, said they had not yet been served with the full appeal, including the prosecutors’ exhibits, but had reviewed a filing summarizing their arguments.
Prosecutors are mistakenly arguing that the statute regulates conduct instead of speech and the ruling should be upheld, they wrote in a statement.
“Judge Rubinson, in ruling that the statute was an overbroad regulation of speech, gave a decision that was appropriate, well-reasoned, and an accurate interpretation of First Amendment law, and we believe that the reviewing court will uphold his decision,” Kestenbaum and Kaiserman wrote.
Rubinson said when ruling Nov. 14 that lawmakers should have simply raised the penalties for all types of reckless driving. The appeal states the judge should have deferred to the way California lawmakers decided to target reckless driving by paparazzi.
“It was not the trial court’s role to substitute its views for those of the Legislature and strike down a valid statute because it felt there were other ‘effective’ ways to address the problem,” the filing states.
Raef still faces traditional reckless driving charges for the July chase involving Bieber on a freeway. That case is temporarily on hold. Raef has not yet entered a plea.
The law used to charge Raef was influenced 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.