Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of California, who quit after a scandal left her political career in tatters, will have to pay media organizations approximately $220,000 after losing her lawsuit against them over images published of her in 2019.
Hill sued the Daily Mail, as well as the conservative publication RedState and radio producer Joseph Messina, after nude images of her were published by the U.K.’s Daily Mail and by RedState, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hill had claimed that she was protected under revenge porn laws. However, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco rejected that argument on First Amendment grounds.
On Wednesday, Orozco said Hill now has to pay around $105,000 to the Daily Mail’s parent company. She previously ordered Hill to pay $84,000 to defray the legal costs incurred by RedState and $30,000 to cover Messina’s legal costs.
Hill expressed her frustration about the ruling on Twitter on Wednesday.
“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,” she tweeted. “The justice system is broken for victims.”
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
No ones nude photos should be considered another person’s free speech. That why I’m fighting back: by trying to get federal ban on revenge porn and appealing in my civil lawsuit. https://t.co/KnKhIqM91M
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) April 22, 2021
A spokeswoman for the former representative said Hill plans to appeal her suit’s dismissal.
Krista Lee Baughman, an attorney representing RedState and Messina, said the ruling showed that “those who file speech-chilling [intimidation] lawsuits must pay the price.”
“If you have a problem with the way the Legislature wrote the revenge-porn statute, that needs to be addressed in the Legislature,” she said. “The court is duty-bound to follow the writing. In this case, the statute itself clearly had a public interest exception.”
Hill, who is openly bisexual, admitted a relationship both she and her husband had with female campaign aide Morgan Desjardins.
Federal Election Commission data showed that between April and December of 2019, Desjardins raked in about $14,000 from Hill’s campaign for consulting services, which multiple checks for $2,500 per month. Prior to that time, Desjardins was paid at a rate of between $40,000 and $50,000 a year as a staff member for Hill’s campaign, according to the records.
The L.A. Times reported that the relationship became public after the publication of pictures that showed Hill, naked, brushing Desjardins’ hair. Other published images of Hill naked showed her holding a bong and sunbathing. Another showed her and Desjardins kissing.
Hill was also accused of having an affair with a congressional staffer, but she steadfastly denied that accusation. She blamed her husband for initiating the publication of the pictures, as the couple had been going through a divorce at the time.
Hill claimed that publishing the pictures violated California’s 2013 revenge porn law that makes it illegal to distribute private images without a person’s consent. However, the law allows such sharing if it is in the public interest.
That was a major focus in Orozco’s ruling dismissing the suit.
“Here, the intimate images published by [the Daily Mail] spoke to [Hill’s] character and qualifications for her position, as they allegedly depicted [Hill] with a campaign staffer whom she was alleged to have had a sexual affair with,” Orozco wrote in April when she ruled against Hill, according to the Antelope Valley Times.
The judge added that the photos “appeared to show [Hill] using a then-illegal drug and displaying a tattoo that was controversial because it resembled a white supremacy symbol that had become an issue during her congressional campaign.”
“Accordingly, the images were a matter of public issue or public interest,” Orozco wrote.
“[Hill’s] argument that the images are not a matter of public concern because [the Daily Mail] could have simply described the images rather than publishing them is unpersuasive, as the fact 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.”
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