LOS ANGELES - Authorities are using a new California law to charge a paparazzo photographer in connection with a high-speed chase of Justin Bieber earlier this month.
The Los Angeles City Attorney's office on Wednesday filed four misdemeanor charges against Paul Raef, 30, including reckless driving with the intent to capture pictures for commercial gain, reckless driving, failure to obey a peace officer and following another vehicle too closely.
Paparazzi pursuit of celebrities has long been identified as a risk in Los Angeles.
"It's Hollywood. There are a huge number of celebrities and there's a lot of money paid for these pictures," said attorney Harland Braun, who has defended cases involving paparazzi and who said he has had to fend off photographers chasing his celebrity clients.
"Unfortunately, innocent people get caught up in these chases," he said. "I think the law is a good thing."
City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan said the Raef case meets all the criteria spelled out in the law, which was designed to clamp down on photographers' reckless pursuit of celebrities and has not been used before.
"We're very confident in our case," he said
However, a leading First Amendment lawyer said the California law is likely to be challenged vigorously.
Attorney Douglas Mirell said the statute enacted nearly two years ago seeks to punish members of the press by a different standard than the average person.
"A fan doing the same thing, trying to get a glimpse of Bieber or taking a photo for their personal photo album might be engaged in the same egregious conduct. But it would fall outside the statute because they were not doing it for a commercial purpose," Mirell said.
He said members of the press should be prosecuted the same way as others for laws such as reckless driving but should not be singled out as more culpable than others.
The charges stem from a July 6 incident in which Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, a former police officer, and three other motorists called 911 to report a high speed chase along the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley.
Officers saw six vehicles pursuing a silver Fisker Karma, a high-end sports car driven by Bieber.
Raef's Toyota SUV was seen traveling at speeds over 80 miles an hour, weaving across all lanes of the freeway and on the shoulder, forcing its way into lanes where there was little room to merge safely.
Authorities said motorists were forced to brake and swerve to avoid colliding with Raef's vehicle and the others.
Bieber pulled over when officers signaled him to do so, but Raef's vehicle did not stop.
Bieber was given a speeding ticket and released.
The matter might have ended there. But 30 minutes later, Bieber called 911 and said he was again being followed by the same Toyota.
California Highway Patrol officers arrived at a downtown Los Angeles parking garage, where other paparazzi had congregated, and found the Toyota with the same license plate as the one that had chased the singer.
Officers identified Raef as the driver.
Raef is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 9. If convicted, he faces up to one year in county jail and $3,500 in fines.
Raef could not immediately be located for comment. Bieber's publicist did not respond to phone and email messages
Although Bieber ended up with a speeding ticket, Mateljan said he has cooperated with authorities investigating the case.