A former Democratic congresswoman has to pay a conservative newspaper more than $100,000 in legal fees after she sued the outlet for publishing nude photos that exposed her bisexual relationship with her then-husband and a female staffer.
In all, former Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) has been ordered to pay approximately $220,000 in attorney fees to three conservative news outlets after her lawsuits backfired.
Hill had been a rising star in the Democratic Party after flipping a Republican congressional seat during the 2018 “blue wave,” but a personal undertow soon pulled her political career out to sea.
In October 2019, the U.K.-based newspaper the Daily Mail published pictures showing Hill, her then-husband Kenneth Heslep, and Morgan Desjardins in various compromising positions and stages of undress. The photos — some of which the couple reportedly posted online in 2016 — showed Hill brushing the staffer’s hair and smoking a bong.
Hill, who is now 33 years old, eventually confessed that the trio had formed a “throuple” after Desjardins joined the congresswoman’s campaign staff in 2017. She told a media outlet that she initially planned to “just deny it” when first asked about the allegations of her affair.
The photos that accompanied the story were said to have made their way into the press after Hill broke off the relationship with both parties, telling them she wanted to focus on her work. But Hill reportedly had another affair with her legislative director, Graham Kelly; Hill still denies the affair.
Hill sued the Daily Mail, Red State writer Jennifer Van Laar, and nationally syndicated radio host Joseph Messina. Her case against Daily Mail contended that the pictures constituted illegal “revenge porn,” and that the paper didn’t have to publish the pictures themselves, because it could have simply described the photos to its readers.
Hill also apparently took issue with the idea that conservative opinion writers should enjoy equal First Amendment rights with the legacy media.
“A partisan blog is a news outlet, according to this” initial ruling, Hill told MSNBC in April. “That can’t be acceptable.”
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco ruled that the media had every legal right to publish Hill’s nude photos, because the law makes an exception for private pictures that fall within the public interest:
Section 1708.85(c)(5) provides for an exception from liability for images which are a matter of public concern. Here, Defendant has established that the images are a matter of public concern, as they speak to Plaintiff’s character and qualifications for her position as a Congresswoman, allegedly depicting an extramarital sexual relationship with a paid campaign staff member, the use of illegal drugs by a sitting Congresswoman, and a tattoo similar to the symbols formerly used by white supremacists.
On Wednesday, Orozco ordered Hill to pay the Daily Mail $104,747.75 in attorney fees.
Hill ended up having to shoulder the substantial legal costs triggered by her lawsuits due to an anti-SLAPP law. The acronym “SLAPP” is short for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” and describes litigation intended only to shut down public scrutiny.
“SLAPPs have become an all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings,” explains the Reporters Committee for a Free Press.
Many such laws require that, if such a lawsuit fails, the plaintiff has to pay the costs that the baseless litigation imposed on the defendants.
Hill had previously been ordered to pay approximately $84,000 to Van Laar and $30,000 to Messina under the same legal rubric, according to the Daily Mail.
Hill responded by asking her followers to help foot the bill.
“A judge just ordered me to PAY the Daily Mail more than $100k for the privilege of them publishing nude photos of me obtained from an abuser. The justice system is broken for victims,” Hill posted on social media.
“Our fight continues – please chip in if you can,” she wrote, linking to a crowdfunding page run by the Brooklyn-based C.A. Goldberg law firm.
A judge just ordered me to PAY the Daily Mail more than $100k for the privilege of them publishing nude photos of me obtained from an abuser.
The justice system is broken for victims.
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) June 2, 2021
Earlier, Hill blamed her resignation on “biphobia” and the fact that “I’m a woman” — although the national media celebrated Hill as “potentially the only openly bisexual person in the House” during her successful 2018 election.
Many have accused Hill of abusing her position of authority for her own sexual gratification.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.