Bill targets sale of celebrities' criminal documents

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SACRAMENTO -- The day Mel Gibson was arrested last summer for drunk driving, a celebrity news Web site posted the arrest report, a move that state lawmakers on Monday said violated the movie star's legal rights.

That prompted legislation crafted to deter both the media and law enforcement from exchanging money or other compensation for information in criminal investigations. It passed the state Assembly by a vote of 74-0.

"Mel Gibson was one of those cases where information was given out before his due process was executed," said the bill's author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat whose district is home to Gibson and other celebrities.

The measure now goes to the Senate and must be signed by the governor before becoming law.

It would impose criminal penalties on a law enforcement officer, peace officer or anyone else involved in an investigation who sold details or tips about a case. Buyers also could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000.

In Gibson's case, the celebrity web site TMZ.com was the first to post the Lethal Weapon star's arrest report online on the evening of his arrest last July. The report, which the Web site said it did not pay for, revealed details of a drunken tirade in which Gibson was quoted as saying, "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He later apologized for his comments.

Lawmakers said celebrity news Web sites such as TMZ, Smoking Gun and You Tube that compete to break stories have triggered concern among law enforcement agencies that Internet and nontraditional news outlets might pay for information before it is released.

TMZ spokeswoman Gillian Sheldon said Monday that the Web site did not pay for Gibson's arrest report.

"No financial compensation was given whatsoever," Sheldon said.

Still, Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton, said he hoped the bill would "crack down on the glorification" of celebrities and the temptation of a few to profit in the competitive 24-hour news cycle.

"For the sake of a few dollars or to get someone their '15 minutes of fame,' it's not appropriate to sacrifice people's rights," Aghazarian said.

A representative for Gibson, Alan Nierob, did not immediately respond to a phone call and an e-mail Monday from The Associated Press.

In other business, the Assembly and Senate passed:

--A bill that would restrict so-called transfer fees imposed by developers on first-time home buyers. The bill would require that any fee be defined as a public benefit and be disclosed to home buyers. Supporters said the bill would ensure home builders could charge fees to cover facilities in new communities, but critics called them a tax to line developers' pockets.

--The Senate approved a bill by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, that would enable a union to become the bargaining agent for a group of farm workers if a majority of workers signed a petition supporting the union. Supporters say the legislation would prevent employers from using intimidation to discourage workers from voting for a union in an election. A 24-15 vote sent the measure to the Assembly.

--School board members could be in line for a pay raise under another bill approved by the Senate. The measure by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would double the maximum monthly wages board members could receive. Currently, their pay limits range from $60 to $2,000, depending on the number of students in a district. Board members would have to attend all the meetings to receive full compensation, and it would take a vote of each board to raise its members' pay. The wage scale hasn't been changed in at least 19 years. A 26-11 vote sent the bill to the Assembly.
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