Former Rep. Hill Files Lawsuit Against Former Husband And Media Over Public Disclosures

In 2019, former Rep. Katie Hill resigned from Congress after the disclosure of sexual relations with a staff member. Ordinarily, the media and various public interest groups would have been outraged and unrelenting in their “MeToo” coverage, particularly with a young staffer recently out of college. In the case of Hill, however ,media outlets like MSNBC picked up on Hill’s claim that she was subjected to   a “double standard” and a “misogynistic culture.” It was the ultimate form of ironic hypocrisy where a politician claimed a double standard in being forced to resign — seeking an accommodation that was wisely denied to male colleagues in past scandals. Various male politicians from Sen. Bob Packwood to Rep. Trent Franks have resigned under such scandals. Sen. Al Franken resigned for acts that did not involve an actual sexual affair. Hill abused her position of power but somehow converted that abuse into a women’s rights issue. Hill sold that narrative and is now bizarrely treated by many as a victim. Now, Hill is suing over the coverage of her scandal in a lawsuit that challenges core protections for the media.Hill filed suit in Los Angeles Tuesday against her ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep, and the owners of Redstate.com and the Daily Mail for the publication of intimate personal material, which she describes as “nonconsensual porn.” Ironically, like President Donald Trump, Hill is challenging the “carte blanche” protections for media under the First Amendment.  I was critical of Trump’s position and I am equally critical of this lawsuit.

First, I should note that I have no problem with Hill suing her ex-husband. If Heslep released revealing photos of his wife in a malicious public campaign, he is obviously subject to lawsuit. A few weeks ago, a judge granted a temporary restraining order against Heslep, ordering him to stay 100 yards away from his Hill, her relatives and her pets. (Hill claims Heslep has threatened her pets in the past).

It is the media parties that concern me. The 41-page lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress and violation of state law for distribution of intimate personal material without Hill’s consent, against defendants Salem Media Group Inc., Mail Media, Inc., writer Jennifer Van Laar (the deputy managing editor of Redstate.com), and Joseph Messina, the host of “The Real Side” Radio Show, as well as other unnamed individuals.  Van Laar’s work also appeared in the the Daily Mail (which is named as a defendant).

The complaint alleges an abusive relationship with Heslep that included the posting of nude pictures of Hill on dating sites allegedly without her consent. She then blames him with launching a campaign to destroy her politically and that the media defendants assisted in that effort. 

The problem is that the media often uses sources that have malice or personal reasons for their disclosures. The key is to confirm if the story is true. This is done with sources or confirmation beyond such any sources with malicious intent. You do not rely only on a source with a personal or malicious interest.  In this case, Hill did not deny the affair with a young staffer or other key details. Moreover, Hill does not appear to claim that the photos were false.  Just embarrassing. That would be a dangerous standard to apply to any media outlet.

RedState, a conservative site, ran revealing pictures of Hill, which she describes as “nonconsensual porn” in the suit. The complaint alleges that defendants had over 700 such images that Heslep shopped around to the media. Van Laar authored the original post and Hill announced her resignation on Oct. 27, 2019.  Unlike the Packwood and other stories, the mainstream media did not cover the story until the controversy was raised on sites like RedState.

Hill insists that “Deciding who is allowed to see our naked bodies is an essential right.” However, this is about the media and a public officials. If that were true, pictures in scandals like the Julian Epstein case could be withheld by the accused individuals.

The complaint filed by attorneys Carrie Goldberg and Ashley Parris appears at points an amplification of Hill’s public campaign as a victim of her abuse of power:

“Here we reset the ideas that abuse in a woman’s past should quash their political aspirations and that public sexual humiliation is an acceptable way to vanquish a political opponent. This case pleads that everybody, even publicly elected officials and celebrities, is owed the right to sexual privacy and redress from our courts when they experience intimate partner violence.”

The complaint asserts that “All Defendants knew or should have known that Hill had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private.” The complaint notes that 46 states and the District of Columbia have criminalized the dissemination nude or sexually graphic images. However, revenge porn laws are not directed at the media but rather private parties like Heslep if he did distribute these photos.  Even then, there can be countervailing or complicating issues of political speech when disclosing abuse by a public officials. There are also be claims of consent or knowledge.

The use of emotional distress claims runs against the grain of various cases, including the Westboro decision of the Supreme Court in 2011. In that case, the Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro is infamous for its deranged, homophobic protests at funerals of fallen U.S. troops. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court refused to allow the universal disgust at Westboro’s views influence its decision. Only Justice Samuel Alito was willing to curtail free speech to punish Westboro.

The father of a fallen Marine sued the small church under claims of harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress. I have previously written that such lawsuits are a direct threat to free speech, though I had serious problems with the awarding of costs to the church in a prior column.

Roberts held that the distasteful message cannot influence the message: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Roberts further noted that “Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

The Court in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan have long limited tort law where it would undermine the first amendment. In this case, the Court continues that line of cases — rejecting the highly subjective approach espoused by Alito in his dissent:

“Given that Westboro’s speech was at a public place on a matter of public concern, that speech is entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment. Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt. “If there is a bedrock principle underly- ing the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989). Indeed, “the point of all speech protection . . . is to shield just those choices of content that in someone’s eyes are misguided, or even hurtful.” Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 515 U. S. 557, 574 (1995).

The jury here was instructed that it could hold Westboro liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a finding that Westboro’s picketing was “outrageous.” “Outrageousness,” however, is a highly malleable standard with “an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression.” Hustler, 485 U. S., at 55 (internal quotation marks omitted). In a case such as this, a jury is “unlikely to be neutral with respect to the content of [the] speech,” posing “a real danger of becoming an instrument for the suppression of . . . ‘vehement, caustic, and some- times unpleasan[t]’ ” expression. Bose Corp., 466 U. S., at 510 (quoting New York Times, 376 U. S., at 270). Such a risk is unacceptable; “in public debate [we] must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate ‘breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.” Boos v. Barry, 485 U. S. 312, 322 (1988) (some internal quotation marks omitted). What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it is entitled to “special protection” under the First Amendment, and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”

On the dissemination count, there are also seriously issues raised by the application to the media defendants.  Here is the provision:

1708.85. (a) A private cause of action lies against a person who intentionally distributes by any means a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or any other reproduction of another, without the other s consent, if (1) the person knew that the other person had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private, (2) the distributed material exposes an intimate body part of the other person, or shows the other person engaging in an act of intercourse, oral copulation, sodomy, or other act of sexual penetration, and (3) the other person suffers general or special damages as described in Section 48a.

(b) As used in this section, intimate body part means any portion of the genitals, and, in the case of a female, also includes any portion of the breast below the top of the areola, that is uncovered or visible through less than fully opaque clothing.

(c) There shall be no liability on the part of the person distributing material under subdivision (a) under any of the following circumstances:

(1) The distributed material was created under an agreement by the person appearing in the material for its public use and distribution or otherwise intended by that person for public use and distribution.

(2) The person possessing or viewing the distributed material has permission from the person appearing in the material to publish by any means or post the material on an Internet Web site.

(3) The person appearing in the material waived any reasonable expectation of privacy in the distributed material by making it accessible to the general public.

(4) The distributed material constitutes a matter of public concern.

(5) The distributed material was photographed, filmed, videotaped, recorded, or otherwise reproduced in a public place and under circumstances in which the person depicted had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

(6) The distributed material was previously distributed by another person.

There are obviously a number of exceptions that can be cited by the media the defendants. Most notably, this is a scandal involving the abuse of power by a member of Congress and thus “a mater of public concern.” Second, “the distributed material was previously distributed by another person.”  Finally, there is the potential conflict with the First Amendment similar to the Westboro case on the emotional distress tort action.

Once again, I have no problem with Hill going after her husband.  However, the complaint is seeking a radical extension of liability for the media.

On a final note, it is notable that many of Hill’s supporters point to the fact that Bill Clinton was not forced to resign after his affair with a staffer. However, Democrats protected Clinton in that scandal, many of the same people now supporting Hill. In a strange sense, it is not a double standard. It is the same biased standard based on the identity or affiliation of the accused.  We have discussed that hypocrisy in relation to other claims of sexual harassment or assault involving figures ranging from Joe Biden to Andrew Cuomo.  The position in those scandals was markedly different than the one voiced in the Kavanaugh hearings. The view that “women must be believed” changed the minute that Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault and then refused to allow the review of his papers held under seal at the University of Delaware. Suddenly, figures like Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer insisted that they believed Biden without any review such papers or even speaking with the alleged victim (a former Biden staffer).  Ethics experts like Richard Painter attacked those who suggested that the accuser might be telling the truth as endangering the election.  Others like Rep. Iihan Omar, Linda Hirschman, and Lisa Bloom found an even more startling resolution: they stated that Biden was clearly a rapist, but they would still vote for him.

Now, in addition to claiming to be the victim of a “misogynistic culture” for being forced out for her abuse of power, Hill is now seeking to rollback on the protections afforded to the media in such cases.  The media again is silent on the implications of such arguments.

116 thoughts on “Former Rep. Hill Files Lawsuit Against Former Husband And Media Over Public Disclosures”

  1. My oh my the far left is running hard to plug the leaks and holes and have yet to cover any of the solid evidence against them. Starting with are they really citizens? Show your guts Piglosi and Schumuckly Putz and your ethnic traitor currently intent on blowing up the DNC. Put on the yellow beret.

  2. Actually, I think the larger issue here is privacy, which is treated very differently in the US as opposed to some European countries. In Italy, for example, you own your image, and anybody who wants to use it has to get your express permission. I met some Italians one time who said they had been robbed, the robbers were identified by their home protection camera thing, and the Carabinieri said the evidence was inadmissible because they didn’t have the robbers’ consent to use their photos. Which, as Euclid famously said, is absurd. But I think we need some kind of privacy protection in the US. So, even though I have no particular sympathy for Katie Hill, I do agree that people shouldn’t be able to use someone’s naked pictures without their permission. But I would take that one step further and say they shouldn’t be able to use anyone’s personal pictures, or take videos or whatever, without their permission. When I used to be on FB people would post these memes of fat people at the gym with would-be inspiring quotes and I always wondered if the fat person in question knew that they were a fat person poster child. From a practical standpoint, nobody should run for public office unless their life is an open book, but legally, I think there should be protections, not just for politicians, but for everybody.

  3. Such ignorance!
    The Iron Cross is from Prussia, hence via Bismarck a symbol of the German state. Still is.
    Certainly not Nazi, who just adopted the ancient bent cross symbol. So that isn’t actually Nazi either.
    Tch, tch.

    1. Nothing to see here. Move along.

      Ignore the glaringly obvious way that the media and Hollywood treats conservatives and Democrats differently. The double standard and total lack of any accountability must be covered up.

      Accused of abuse? Had a throuple with a staff member who also acused you of abuse? Have a Nazi Iron Cross tattoo? If you’re a Democrat, you’re golden! Sure, she resigned, but she got kind interviews, publicity, treated like an innocent victim, a book deal, and a movie. Who knows how much mileage she’ll get out of it.

  4. This interview with Katie Hill has now been buried in the Google algorithm flooding search results with entries about Katie Hill’s victimhood. She admitted she knew all about her photos being uploaded to hookup websites, but she only owned up to the ones that didn’t show her face. In this interview, she also brushed off getting the Nazi Iron Cross tattoo on her groin as an act of self harm over sexual abuse, and a gesture of independence. She claimed she thought it was the skateboard manufacturer Independent Truck Company’s logo. Would that excuse have done for a conservative?

    “Hill recognized from the beginning that her relationship with Morgan, which spanned the majority of the campaign and her first months in office, could be problematic in her new role. Yet she did little to protect herself, failing to tell her chief of staff about the indiscretion. The photos and what they revealed about her personal life would have been dam*ing for any politician but had the potential to be especially harmful to someone like Hill — young, female, openly bisexual. Having no plan in place put her at an immediate disadvantage. “You know, honestly, it was one of those things where it was like, Well, I’ll just deny it,” Hill told me. “Morgan is not accusing me of anything. She doesn’t want it to come out any more than I do.” Plenty of politicians lie, but it’s rare for one to tell a reporter it was her game plan…

    Behind the façade of the brilliant self-starter was a young woman with depression, a fractured family, and the aftermath of what she described as many sexual assaults. (The precise number changes. In two separate interviews in December, Hill recounted to me being sexually assaulted three times. In February, at the Makers Conference in Los Angeles, she told another reporter she’d been sexually assaulted four times “before I even graduated high school.”)”

    Katie Hill keeps saying she had no idea her photos had been shared on dating websites.

    “In 2010, Hill and Heslep married. They’d already been active on websites for people seeking alternative relationships.

    “Not long after exchanging vows, Hill and Heslep entered their first three-person, long-term relationship with a woman they’d met on OkCupid. Heslep had also been posting intimate photos of Hill on various websites, which Hill said she knew about at the time. Her face wasn’t visible, she said, and she wasn’t thinking about any future consequences. “I was a f&(*&ing college student, you know? And it was like, Okay, well, I’m down to try, right?””

    https://www.thecut.com/2020/03/katie-hill-scandal-aftermath.html

  5. Sorry!!!! I just realized Katie Hill’s quote had bad language. I should have caught and bleeped that.

  6. “Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill’s excessive drinking raised concerns among her staffers, lover and now-estranged husband, according to bombshell text messages.

    The 32-year-old California representative came home drunk at 3am, missed flights because she was staying out all night partying, as she even admitted her fear that she was heading towards mania, texts obtained by Red State reveal.

    Hill’s husband Kenny Heslep and various staffers all voiced their concerns about her drinking and how it was impacting her mental health – and ability to do her job…

    Hill was even reportedly witnessed at an event in mid-July visibly intoxicated and her staffer had to tell her to leave because she ‘shouldn’t be here right now.’

    Worries over Hill’s drinking comes as she confessed on Wednesday to having an ‘inappropriate’ throuple relationship with Heslep and a young female campaign worker, just as the House Ethics Committee announced it would investigate her.

    The bisexual politician was also accused of having a separate affair with her staffer Graham Kelly, which was the final straw for Heslep who filed for divorce this summer.”

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7609313/Katie-Hill-missed-flights-drinking-staffers-worry-partying-affecting-work.html

  7. Democrat female politician stands accused of abuse.

    Hollywood makes a movie lauding her. I wonder if Harvey Weinstein will be in on the film.

    “An old government Twitter account for former California U.S. Rep. Katie Hill was hacked Wednesday, purportedly by “former staff” who criticized a planned movie about her life and accused Hill of workplace abuse…

    “The hack came a day after the announcement that actress Elisabeth Moss will star as the former lawmaker in a movie adaptation of Hill’s memoir.

    The anonymous tweets said Hill had not been held accountable and is “not a hero.”

    “Katie Hill took advantage of her subordinates,” one tweet said. “She caused immense harm to the people who worked for her, many of whom were young women.””

    https://apnews.com/article/los-angeles-california-0b4582fcc87fa62656829dfe81b10ef9

  8. Our Troll Needs Your Attention!!

    COULD THESE 3 POSTERS BE THE SAME?

    This perverted little exchange has come to typify Johnathan Turley’s comment threads. One should note that yesterday Commenter Estovir went on at some length posting about “butt plugs” and the “fecal matters inside sphincters”.

    Rhodes says: December 23, 2020 at 10:30 AM

    What were the idiots thinking with the # (Pound) MeToo meme when they came up with it?!

    Katie has said she is bisexual. So she may want to just go full lesbian at this point, as it appears that she has a history of problems with men.

    Svelaz says: December 23, 2020 at 10:50 AM

    I used to be bisexual until I learned how much fun it is to be with little boys. They really dig me.
    For all you Trumpters claiming religious superiority, if it were not for religion I would be the leader of NAMBLA.

    Diogenes says: December 23, 2020 at 11:17 AM

    An interesting thing, Rhodes. I liked your comment, and somehow it got unliked. Liked it, again, and it got unliked, again. Not sure what’s going on there.

    1. Blue Anonymous (anonymous incongruous), a flightless waterfoul, can be found waiting tables during Renaissance Weekends. The mating season has yet to be determined as mother’s couch is no place for conjugation. Taxonomy consists of a juvenile brainpan loaded with academic solvents which immunize the ganglian cyst against infection by reality. Lightly feathered with t-shirt, sporting colorful screeds such as F*** this and F*** that. Bipedal except when drunk or begging for sex (which is most of the time); Birkenstocks sold separately.

      1. Very funny, Diogenes.

        But Anonymous is actually CCP red. Like all ChiCom’s.

        His newest revelation is he served in the PLA.

  9. Katie Hill was the victim of a double standard? She benefitted from a double standard!!!

    If a Republican was caught posting nudes on wife swap websites, had an Iron Cross tattoo, smoked bongs naked in pics, had a pic of him brushing a young staffer’s hair while he was naked, and that staffer accused him of abuse, do you think that the media and politicians would be calling him an abused darling? Do you think the message would be to blame the wife for revealing the abuse and inappropriate relationship that broke House rules? She’s been petted and coddled all through this debacle that she caused herself.

    All you have to do is imagine this was a Republican to know the cries of victimhood are totally baloney.

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