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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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L.A. Defends Law|Aimed at Paparazzi

(CN) - Los Angeles city attorneys defended a state law that penalizes paparazzi who follow celebrities too closely in cars.

Paparazzo Paul Raef was charged in July with speeding to chase pop star Justin Bieber.

Raef was charged under a 2010 state law that raises the penalty for those who drive recklessly to take commercial photos.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson dismissed that charge in November, saying it violated the First Amendment because it targeted "news-gatherers."

"The reality is that this law is very rarely, if ever, going to be applied to anybody but a member of the press," the judge said.

"There are all sorts of more traditional news gathering that the press does in situations where it is important to get the story quickly or getting it first. Those kinds of things can matter. The press members driving recklessly because he or she is driving to cover the scene of a crime or covering a natural disaster, or, again, covering a political event and they're going to broadcast the pictures or video that they take at the scene," the judge said. "That press member who's rushing to get to a political event - couldn't be more core type of First Amendment activity."

City attorneys on Wednesday filed a petition for writ of mandate in the court's appellate division, saying the law is constitutional.

The city attorney defended the law before it was enacted, writing that it was "narrowly tailored to target the danger that paparazzi present to members of the general public as a result of their reckless driving in pursuit of their targets."

"Law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles know all too well that paparazzi will block the streets and sidewalks, engage in high speed car chases, and drive with little or no regard to general public safety," the city attorney wrote. "This is a strong public policy bill that will deter those paparazzi willing to break the law and endanger the public for the sake of profit."

In the petition for writ of mandate, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said Judge Rubinson's order was based on a misunderstanding of the First Amendment because, among other things, the disputed law does not target speech.

"The First Amendment has no application here," according to the 46-page memorandum and request for stay.

"[The law] only targets physical conduct - not speech or the press. Despite the fact that news-gatherers fall within [the law], reckless driving is not an 'indispensible tool' of news-gathering that is afforded First Amendment protection. News-gatherers are not immune from obeying a criminal law of general application that regulates reckless driving with intent to capture an image for a commercial purpose."

The city seeks writ of mandate compelling the trial court to vacate its order sustaining the paparazzo's demurrer, and set the matter for arraignment.

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