LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Criminal charges filed against a photographer who pursued teen pop star Justin Bieber at high speeds on a Los Angeles freeway in July were thrown out on Wednesday, striking a blow to California’s crackdown on overly aggressive paparazzi.
Celebrity photographer Paul Raef was the first person to be prosecuted under the state’s 2010 law that criminalizes dangerous driving when taking photos commercially.
Raef was charged in July with two counts of violating the law stemming from a July 6 incident on a freeway in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
Dismissing the charges, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Robinson called the state’s anti-paparazzi law “problematic” and “overly inclusive.”
The law “sweeps very widely and would increase the penalties for reckless driving” in unintended cases, Robinson said.
Robinson faulted the law’s vague definition of commercial photography, saying that it could also apply to a photographer who was speeding to reach an arranged photo shoot with Bieber.
Raef could have faced up to a year in prison and $3,500 in fines, if convicted. His attorney, Brad Kaiserman, said the law is “about protecting celebrities.”
A message left with Bieber’s publicist requesting comment was not immediately returned.
Raef still faces lesser charges of misdemeanor reckless driving and failing to obey police orders after he allegedly pursued Bieber, 18, at high speeds. He will be tried on those charges at a later date.
Bieber, who was pulled over by police for driving 80 miles per hour (130 kph) in a 65 mph (105 km) zone, told officers at the time that he was being hounded by paparazzi, and police said they noticed Raef’s car following the “Boyfriend” singer.
About 30 minutes after the traffic stop, Bieber called police to report that Raef continued to follow him. Police later found Raef and other paparazzi together in downtown Los Angeles.
The Canadian singer received a speeding ticket at the time.
Reporting By Eric Kelsey, editing by Jill Serjeant and Sandra Maler