Sam Worthington may claim he was only defending girlfriend Lara Bingle, but if convicted of assaulting a paparazzo on a New York street the Perth-raised Avatar star could be jailed for a year.
A grim-faced Worthington appeared in Manhattan’s Criminal Court on Wednesday where he was charged with two counts of third-degree assault, attempted assault and harassment.
Judge Bruna DiBiase also slapped Worthington, 37, with a restraining order barring him from contact with the paparazzo, Sheng Li, for six months.
Bingle did not accompany Worthington, who was dressed in a navy coat, for the brief arraignment on a snowy Manhattan day.
Worthington’s high-powered lawyer, Stacey Richman, told the judge the actor continues to be targeted by photographers and outside court he was forced to walk through a pack of cameras and reporters.
“I picked him up this morning and people were standing in front of the car,” said Richman, who has represented rappers Jay Z, Li’l Wayne and Ja Rule.
If convicted of the assault charges, Worthington faces up to a year in jail.
If Li’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, gets his way, prosecutors will drop the charges against Li and focus on the Australian actor.
Kuby says the proof is in the paparazzi video footage of Sunday’s violent altercation in Greenwich Village which appears to have begun when Bingle, complaining about being followed by Li, confronts the photographer and allegedly tries to take his camera.
Worthington, after Li allegedly kicked Bingle, is accused of hitting the paparazzo “with a closed fist several times on his face, causing a laceration to the bridge of his nose and substantial pain”, according to the criminal complaint.
“I think it was outrageous that he (Li) was charged at all,” Kuby told the New York Daily News on Wednesday.
“Presumably, once the DA’s office sees the video, they’ll drop the charges.
“Again, it depends on if (New York District Attorney) Cy Vance is a fan of Avatar or not.”
Li appeared in court on Monday charged with misdemeanour counts of assault and harassment.
Police allege Li was aggressively taking photos of Bingle as she walked along a Greenwich Village street and Li deliberately kicked Bingle.
The judge adjourned Worthington’s matter to May 8, although the actor will not have to attend as he will be out of the country filming a movie.