Arts & Entertainment

Court upholds California law to control driving by paparazzi

File: Paparazzi Craig Williams is seen through the side mirror during a stake out near Britney Spears' house in Los Angeles.
File: Paparazzi Craig Williams is seen through the side mirror during a stake out near Britney Spears' house in Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File

An appellate court ruled Wednesday that California's newest anti-paparazzi law aimed at curtailing reckless driving by photographers is constitutional and does not violate the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.

A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles also unanimously decided the law is not vague and does not place an undue burden on the rights of news gatherers, as opponents of the statute have argued.

The ruling came in a case involving photographer Paul Raef, who was charged under the 2010 lawafter being accused of engaging in a high-speed pursuit of Justin Bieber along a Los Angeles freeway in 2012.

"Raef has not identified existing laws that would as effectively regulate the variety of traffic violations, short of actual crashes, that can be committed in paparazzi-like pursuits," the justices wrote.

A lower court judge determined in 2012 that the law was unconstitutional, but the charge against Raef was reinstated by a Los Angeles County Superior Court appellate panel in 2014.

Raef's lawyers took the case to the state appellate court, which heard arguments on June 12. Bieber's name was not mentioned.

The criminal case against Raef has been on hold during the appeals.

The ruling on Wednesday noted that by creating a misdemeanor charge for reckless driving in pursuit of images, lawmakers were giving those charged under the statute the right to a jury trial.

Jean-Paul Jassy, a lawyer for several media outlets, argued that the law created penalties for news gathering and "unconstitutional limits on the press."

He also urged the justices to look beyond the paparazzi element and not make judgments based on the celebrity news aspect of the case.

"One person's paparazzi is another person's mainstream photographer," Jassy argued.

Raef's attorneys, Mark Kressel and Dmitry Gorin, said they were reviewing the ruling and considering their next steps.

Jassy called the ruling disappointing.

"The law's only contribution to the vehicle code is to enhance penalties for photography," he said. "Photography is not a crime."

Katharine MacKenzie, an attorney for the city of Los Angeles, which filed the charge against Raef, countered that the law was written to target anyone who was driving recklessly while taking photos, video or audio for commercial purposes.

She described a broader group of people who could be charged under the law who aren't celebrity photographers, including artists who snap photos or video while driving recklessly, or documentary filmmakers in pursuit of comment from a reluctant subject.

MacKenzie argued the law doesn't hamper First Amendment press freedoms. The law only punishes those who "use a crime to get the image," she said.

The law was inspired in part by the experience of Jennifer Aniston, who told a lawmaker about being unable to drive away after being surrounded by paparazzi on Pacific Coast Highway.

The offense is punishable by six months in jail and a $2,500 fine but went unused until the pursuit of Bieber, which resulted in the singer receiving a speeding citation.

Raef was also charged with traditional reckless driving charges after the chase that topped 80 mph and prompted several 911 calls.