A freelance photographer who allegedly chased singer Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway earlier this year 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 faces up to a year in county jail and fines totaling $3,500. A hearing in the case 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 member of the press, he said.
City Atty. Carmen Trutanich’s office, which supported the law and is prosecuting the case, declined to discuss the case. But 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 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 his 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 CHP, but a Toyota Rav 4 -- 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 at speeds well in excess of 80 mph across all lanes and even, at times, on the shoulder, prosecutors allege. Other motorists were forced to apply their brakes and swerve to avoid colliding with the vehicles. As it pursued Bieber’s vehicle, the Toyota forced its way into lanes of traffic despite having no room to merge safely.