Katie Hill’s suit against Daily Mail over nude pics rejected, judge calls ‘images a matter of public interest’
LA court cites First Amendment as grounds for dismissal while Hill said the ruling could result in fewer women running for office
A Los Angeles court has dismissed former California Representative Katie Hill's lawsuit against the Daily Mail. Hill filed the suit in December 2020 after the British tabloid obtained and published nude photos of her in October 2019. The photos were obtained after a conservative website, Red State, published a story that Hill was having an affair with one of her staff.
The story and the images led to an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, but before it could be completed, she announced her resignation. On October 27, the Democratic freshman announced she would resign from Congress.
The judge dismissed Hill's lawsuit, claiming that the Mail was protected by the First Amendment and that the images were a matter of public interest. The ruling was made by judge Yolanda Orozco of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. '
Hill's photos and subsequent lawsuit
In October 2019, Red State first published an article alleging that Hill was having an affair with one of her Congressional aides. The website then published another article saying she was involved in a three-way consensual romance with a female campaign staff member and her husband. That report was followed up by the Mail's explosive publications of her nude images, reportedly posted on a wife-sharing forum. The images date back to 2017 when the staffer, identified as Morgan Desjardins, first began working for Hill.
Along with the graphic images, the Mail provided an in-depth report of Hill's relationship saying "Hill and her husband Kenny Heslep started a relationship with Desjardins in late 2017 when she was 22." Of the several published, one, in particular, threw up a bit of a controversy. It shows a naked Hill smoking a bong. Also visible in that image is a tattoo of an iron cross, an icon usually associated with the Nazis.
Allegedly, Heslep shared multiple other images of Hill on Reddit wife-sharing forums 'WouldYouF**kMyWife' and 'wifesharing'. The Mail story was published on October 24, 2019. In December 2020, she filed the lawsuit naming The Daily Mail, Red State, and her husband as defendants and accusing them of publishing 'nonconsensual porn'. She accused her husband of a 'revenge vendetta' by releasing the images.
"This case is about a man …. stopping at nothing to destroy the life of his ex-wife … when she dared end their relationship after more than 15 years of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse,” the lawsuit alleged. Before the suit, Hill also divorced Heslep and obtained a temporary restraining order against him. Heslep denied the allegations.
Judge says images fair
Judge Yolanda Orozco dismissed Hill's lawsuit on April 7, 2021. In her ruling, she wrote, "the intimate images published by (the Daily Mail) spoke to (Hill’s) character and qualifications for her position". The judge also called out the image of Hill smoking a bong and her tattoo specifically. According to her, those two factors made the images "a matter of public issue or public interest.”
The judge also dismissed arguments made by Hill's attorneys that the images could have simply been described, rather than published. Responding to that, she said, "that information to be gleaned from an image may be disseminated in an alternative manner does not equate to a finding that the image itself is not a matter of public concern."
Hill's lawyer Carrie Goldberg has warned that the ruling would set a dangerous precedent. According to the New York Post, Goldberg said that the ruling would give anyone calling themselves a journalist free reign to publish such content. She also argued that asking Hill to pay the Mail's legal bills would bankrupt the former Representative, to which the judge replied, "not a lot I can do about it. Some of our laws have harsh results."
Goldberg has indicated that Hill will appeal the ruling, tweeting "Today my client, @RepKatieHill, lost against perverted Daily Mail, a website that peddles in humiliation and monetizes sexual privacy invasions of women. DM said, and the court agreed, that Katie's nudes were their free speech. We think the appellate court will disagree"
Today my client, @RepKatieHill, lost against perverted Daily Mail, a website that peddles in humiliation and monetizes sexual privacy invasions of women.— Carrie A. Goldberg (@cagoldberglaw) April 7, 2021
DM said, and the court agreed, that Katie's nudes were their free speech.
We think the appellate court will disagree. 1/
Hill also criticized the ruling, tweeting "I sued the Daily Mail for their publication of my nonconsensual nude images. Today, we lost in court because a judge - not a jury - thinks revenge porn is free speech. This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office, so quitting isn’t an option." Hill is also seeking contributions to pay for Goldberg's legal expenses, through LawPay.
I sued the Daily Mail for their publication of my nonconsensual nude images. Today, we lost in court because a judge - not a jury - thinks revenge porn is free speech. This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office, so quitting isn’t an option. https://t.co/Sjhl5XOB6j— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) April 7, 2021
When she was sworn into Congress in January 2019, Hill became California's first openly bisexual lawmaker. In 2010, she married Heslep and filed for divorce in 2019. In August 2020, Hill penned 'She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality', chronicling her short stint as a politician.