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Justin Bieber's call for paparazzi curbs generates debate

January 4, 2013 |  7:44 am

Frances Merto, girlfriend of photographer Chris Guerra, stands at a memorial along Sepulveda Blvd. near Getty Center Drive. Guerra was struck by a vehicle after taking pictures of Justin Bieber's car that was pulled over by the CHP. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Justin Bieber's call for stronger anti-paparazzi measures after a photographer trying to snap a picture of Bieber's Ferrari was killed Tuesday has generated debate in Hollywood.

Some celebrities and others have cheered Bieber's call for more laws, but others believe it would be a waste of time.

No legislators are stepped forward yet to propose any new laws.

"We have plenty of laws," said Blair Berk, a Beverly Hills attorney who has represented numerous celebrities. "Better enforcement of the existing laws is the answer."

Attorney Doug Mirell, an expert on the anti-paparazzi law, who says previous anti-paparazzi laws have been ineffective and seem designed to generate attention and campaign contributions.

"These laws have become a full employment scheme for legislators,” Mirell said. “The reality is they have rarely been used and not successful.”

The photographer was killed Tuesday evening when he was hit by a car while he was crossing Sepulveda Boulevard near Getty Center Drive. A California Highway Patrol officer had pulled over Bieber's sports car for a traffic stop; the photographer arrived on scene, snapped photos and was struck as he returned to his own car.

A friend of Bieber's was driving the car at the time, officials said. The pop singer was not in the vehicle.

Law enforcement sources said Wednesday that it's unlikely charges will be filed against the driver of the car that hit the photographer.

In a statement Wednesday, Bieber went on the offensive, calling on lawmakers to crack down.

"Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders and the photographers themselves," he said.

Since the late 1990s, California has seen its anti-paparazzi laws evolve. Initially, a law passed in the wake of Princess Diana's 1997 death in a Paris tunnel expanded California trespass law by creating civil damages in cases in which a person knowingly entered a private property to capture images or sound of personal or family activity when that physical invasion would be offensive to a reasonable person. The law also created the concept of constructive invasion of privacy with the idea that no person could use a telephoto lens or microphones to intrude on a property.

In 2005, after a flurry of incidents involving Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Lindsay Lohan, California increased the penalties for such privacy intrusions and also added the ability to sue for an assault committed with intent to capture a visual image.

In 2009, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, with the support of the Screen Actors Guild and with a strong push by actress Jennifer Aniston, got a law on the books that imposed civil fines of up to $50,000 for anyone who buys a photograph illegally taken.

Then, in 2010, state lawmakers enacted legislation that made it a crime to recklessly drive in pursuit of a commercial photograph, with punishment of up to a year in jail if a minor was involved.

Last year, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge threw out charges related to the first-of-its-kind anti-paparazzi law in a case involving Bieber being chased on the 101 Freeway by a photographer.

The judge said the law violated 1st Amendment protections by overreaching and potentially affecting such people as wedding photographers or photographers speeding to a location where a celebrity is present.

The Los Angeles City Attorney's office is now appealing that decision.

Bieber was pulled over by the CHP on the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley and cited for driving his Fisker sports car at high speed. The pop star said then he was being chased by a photographer, Paul Raef.

Raef's attorney, Dmitry Gorin, agreed that new anti-paparazzi laws are unnecessary.

"There are plenty of other laws on the books to deal with these issues. There is always a rush to create a new paparazzi law every time something happens," he said. "Any new law on the paparazzi is going to run smack into the 1st Amendment. Truth is, most conduct is covered by existing laws. A lot of this is done for publicity."

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-- Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Frances Merto, girlfriend of photographer Chris Guerra, stands at a memorial along Sepulveda Boulevard near Getty Center Drive. Guerra was struck by a vehicle after taking pictures of Justin Bieber's car that was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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