Thursday, October 1, 2015
Court of Appeal Upholds Law Designed to Curb Paparazzi
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A state law designed to curtail reckless driving by photographers does not violate the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Four agreed with the Los Angeles Superior Court Appellate Division, which upheld Vehicle Code §40008 last year. The Los Angeles city attorney appealed after Superior Court Judge Thomas Rubinson said the law was unconstitutional and dismissed a charge that paparazzo Carl Raef violated the law during a high-speed pursuit of Justin Bieber along a Los Angeles freeway in 2012.
Rubinson sustained Raef’s demurrer on the ground the statute targeted First Amendment-protected activity and was overinclusive.
Presiding Justice Norman Epstein also concluded the law is not unconstitutionally vague and does not place an undue burden on the rights of newsgatherers, as opponents of the statute have argued.
“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,” Epstein wrote. He was joined by Justices Thomas Willhite and Audrey Collins.
Epstein noted that the statutory language “is not limited to paparazzi chasing celebrities or reporters gathering news” but rather “targets ‘any person’ who commits an enumerated traffic offense with the intent to capture the image, sound, or physical impression of ‘another person’ for a commercial purpose.”
The presiding justice 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, a right that would not exist if they were charged with traffic infractions.
Jean-Paul Jassy, a lawyer for several media outlets that supported Raef as amici, 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.”
City Attorney’s Response
Deputy City Attorney Katharine MacKenzie 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 driving traditional reckless driving and refusing to comply with a lawful order of a peace officer after the chase that topped 80 mph and prompted several 911 calls.
The case is Raef v. Superior Court (People), B259792.
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