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No media access to images of semi-clad Bieber - for now: judge

Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber gestures at a beach as he takes a break in a resort in Punta Chame, on the outskirts of Panama City Januar
Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber gestures at a beach as he takes a break in a resort in Punta Chame, on the outskirts of Panama City Januar

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami judge on Thursday temporarily blocked media access to any more video images of a semi-clad Justin Bieber filmed while the teenage pop singer was in police custody last month after his arrest for driving under the influence.

The police station footage included clips of Bieber giving a urine sample behind a low wall.

Miami-Dade County Judge William Altfield ordered that about 10 hours of police surveillance video not be released until he has been able to review them in his chambers.

"Do you believe that the public has the right to ... see Justin Bieber urinating?" the judge asked attorneys representing several large media companies seeking access to the video under Florida's broad public records law.

"I don't think the public has a right to see his penis," replied Scott Ponce, an attorney for the Miami Herald and CBS.

"I believe the public has a right to see him standing behind a wall doing what we know is urinating," he added, noting that Bieber's urine test was part of the evidence in the DUI case.

At issue are four short clips of Bieber urinating at the police station.

If Bieber's genitalia are visible in the videos, authorities should release the clips after blacking out his private parts, he argued.

Attorneys representing Bieber disagreed.

"I find the argument to be insulting and demeaning of the court ... to just fuzz out the private parts," replied Howard Srebnick, one of Bieber's attorneys.

Judge Altfield said he would review the video and announce his decision at a March 4 hearing. He also postponed Bieber's March 3 DUI trial until March 17.

Bieber, 19, was charged with driving under the influence, resisting arrest and using an expired license after Miami Beach police say they caught him drag racing on January 23. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not attend the hearing on Thursday.

Besides a small amount of alcohol, he had marijuana and prescription medication for anxiety in his system at the time of his arrest, according to the state attorney's office.

One video showing Bieber being patted down by a Miami Beach police officer was released to the media in early February, prompting his attorneys to file a motion to prevent any more such images from being released.

"While in custody at the Miami Beach police station, the defendant was captured on videotape in various states of undress which show intimate personal parts of the defendant's body," according to the motion filed earlier this month in Miami-Dade County Court.

The motion said the Florida constitution and state law protected such images from being publicly disclosed.

Releasing video from Bieber's brief time in custody would cause "irreparable harm," the teen's lawyers say.

Attorneys for several major media companies, including CNN, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press, deny Bieber has the right to privacy under Florida's Public Records Act, according to court documents.

Reuters is not a party to the case.

Under Florida law, all evidence including photos and videos became public record once they are handed to the defense.

"Florida courts have long recognized that government records are presumptively open, and that the Public Records Act is to be construed liberally in favor of access," Deanna Shullman, an attorney representing the media, said in court documents.

Florida courts "reject the notion that simply alleging embarrassment alone is sufficient grounds to trump Public Records Act disclosure mandates," Shullman wrote.

Herald and CBS attorney Ponce pointed to Bieber's own website, which he said included a photo of Bieber urinating and exposing his bare behind, as well as another image of the performer urinating in a mop bucket at a New York restaurant.

Bieber, whose private life has taken a seemingly tumultuous turn in the past year, was also charged last week with assaulting a limousine driver in Toronto in December.

The Miami case is State of Florida v Justin Drew Bieber,

B14-2900.

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Jonathan Oatis and G Crosse)

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