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Appeals court recommends paparazzi charges in Justin Bieber case

Justin Bieber performs in New Jersey on Nov. 9. Credit: Mike Coppola / Getty Images An appeals court has issued a preliminary analysis recommending charges be reinstated against a photographer who chased Justin Bieber on the 101 Freeway in the first case to use an anti-paparazzi law deemed unconstitutional by an L.A. judge.

The conclusion means the judge who invalidated the law as a violation of the 1st Amendment must reconsider his decision or stand by it and have the three-judge appeals panel conduct a full hearing.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson ruled in November that while Los Angeles city prosecutors could proceed with traffic-related charges against Paul Raef, the two other charges related to the untested anti-paparazzi driving law did not pass constitutional muster.

But City Atty. Carmen Trutanich appealed the decision and now the appellate division of the L.A. County Superior Court in its preliminary conclusions seems to be agreeing with him.

The court this week issued a notice of intent with its initial analysis that found the special vehicle code for punishing photographers driving dangerously to obtain images they will sell does not violate the 1st Amendment.

“The statute is not constitutionally infirm because it is neither vague nor over-broad,” the panel wrote.

The notice of intent is not an order or a ruling, But the trial judge can revisit the decision based on the preliminary conclusions.

"The city attorney continues to believe that the law is constitutional, protects public safety and welcomes the notice issued by the appellate division," the office said in a statement. "We look forward to another opportunity to hear the matter in the trial court."

The appellate division in its Jan. 28 notice gave the trial judge, Rubinson, 15 days to vacate his ruling and hold a hearing. If the judge declines to vacate the decision, the appeals judges will proceed to briefing and oral argument.

“We are optimistic that the trial judge will stand by the ruling,” Dmitry Gorin, one of Raef’s lawyers, said Thursday.

The case is the first test of the law passed by the Legislature.

In his November ruling, Rubinson 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 was present.

His ruling came less than six months after Bieber was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol on the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley and cited for driving his Fisker sports car at high speed. The pop star said he was being chased by a freelance paparazzo later identified as Raef.

Los Angeles city prosecutors filed charges against the 30-year-old photographer for allegedly chasing Bieber and then speeding off when police tried to pull over both Bieber and Raef.

The charges were reckless driving, failing to obey a peace officer, two counts of following another vehicle too closely and reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain.

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--Richard Winton

Photo: Justin Bieber performing in New Jersey. Credit: Mike Coppola / Getty Images
 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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