LOS ANGELES - A law aimed at combating reckless driving by paparazzi is overly broad and should not be used against the first photographer charged under its provisions, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson dismissed counts filed under the law against Paul Raef, who was charged in July with being involved in a high-speed pursuit of Justin Bieber.
The judge cited numerous problems with the 2010 statute, saying it was aimed at newsgathering activities protected by the First Amendment, and lawmakers should have simply increased the penalties for reckless driving rather than targeting celebrity photographers.
Attorneys for Raef argued the law was unconstitutional and wasn't meant to protect the public.
"It's about protecting celebrities," attorney Brad Kasierman said. "This discrimination sets a dangerous precedent."
Prosecutors argued that the law, which seeks to punish those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain, could apply to people in other professions, not just the media.
"The focus is not the photo. The focus is on the driving," Assistant City Attorney Ann Rosenthal argued.
While the media is granted freedom under the First Amendment, its latitude to gather news is not unlimited, Rosenthal argued.
"This activity has been found to be particularly dangerous," she said of chases involving paparazzi.
Raef still faces traditional reckless driving counts and has not yet entered a plea,
Prosecutors claim he chased Bieber at more than 80 mph and forced other motorists to avoid collisions while trying to get shots of the teen heartthrob on a Los Angeles freeway.
The chase prompted several 911 calls from scared motorists and led to Bieber being pulled over.
Rubinson cited hypothetical examples in which wedding photographers or even those rushing to do a portrait shoot with a celebrity could face additional penalties if charged under the new statute.
Rosenthal also argued that the judge should look at factors specific to Raef's case, not hypothetical scenarios.
Kaiserman said the ruling only applies to Raef's case but could lead to the law being struck down if prosecutors appeal.